With Attal for France PM, a desperate Macron tilts right to save himself
Seven years under President Emmanuel Macron have turned France into a second class player on the international scene and a fortress for the far right at home.
Though elected to keep the rising right-wing tide at bay, Macron has failed miserably to be a president for all French people.
His second mandate, which started just two years ago, has been marked by an even more authoritarian approach to power with the crushing of the opposition to his highly unpopular pension reform, a heavy handed approach to law and order, and the never ending disdain for political pluralism.
Aware that his popularity is at an all time low, Macron knew appointing the popular Gabriel Attal as his prime minister would help him regain his audience and relaunch his mandate.
"There is really nothing to expect from Attal aside from being the new face of an unpopular administration and its president"
At 34, Attal is France’s youngest ever prime minister. He is a pure product of the Macron brand, if such a thing can be defined, who supposedly had left-leaning tendencies while he was advisor to Marisol Tourraine.
After his election to the National Assembly in 2017, he rapidly rose through the ranks and was nominated Minister of National Education in July 2023. It is here that he positioned himself as another far-right enabler.
In his five months as education minister, Attal pushed hard-line secularism, and his only major policy was to throw oil on the already blazing fire of French Islamophobia by banning the abaya, a garment he failed to define and which was openly aimed at targeting Muslim children.
Just like his predecessors and his likes in the French government, he chose to avoid the hot topics of working conditions for teachers, the lack of means, inequality in schools, the ministry’s inability to hire and retain teachers or the constant decline in the quality of education.
.@yasserlouati on why France’s repression of Palestine solidarity isn’t working 👇 https://t.co/KDzftRjhRS— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) November 4, 2023
In fact, the abaya controversy of September 2023 was only a communication stunt to divert public opinion from the real issues.
The French education system has been in crisis for decades and French public schools are in dire need of investment. But identity politics once more gave the government an escape route.
In his tenure, Attal showed his disdain for public schools and his successor’s attacks against them only confirmed that it is now official policy to develop an American-like education system, where education is commodified and only the rich have access to a quality one.
Attal’s nomination as PM came after weeks of rumours that Elisabeth Borne, Macron’s puppet to push the highly contested labour reforms - and who bypassed parliament on 23 occasions to pass bills without a vote through the infamous article 49.3 of the French Constitution - was on her way out.
So was all the anticipation and excitement about Attal’s nomination justified? The question remains unanswered as Attal will have a hard time to assert his role and not be seen as a Macron minion.
So far, he has failed to show the leadership and capacity to read the nation. The farmers’ protest movement has put the government in panic mode as illustrated by the Minister of Interior’s directives to the Police to “laissez faire” and not stop them from pouring dirt on official buildings.
Many were quick to note how this contrasted with the brutal crushing of the past movements of the Yellow Vests, the Banlieues anti-police brutality protests of last summer, and the anti-labour reform movement of 2023.
There is really nothing to expect from Attal aside from being the new face of an unpopular administration and its president. At 34, we are left to wonder upon what experience he could develop a political backbone and how he would differ from Macron in terms of having a defined political doctrine.
"His exercise of power, just like that of Macron and his previous prime ministers, will not be about long-sighted policies to bring the nation together"
His exercise of power, just like that of Macron and his previous prime ministers, will not be about long-sighted policies to bring the nation together. Instead, his policies will focus on buying time until the next election by going from one tactical move to another, navigating between crises without coherent long-term objectives.
In this chaotic political landscape emerging from Macron’s leaning towards Les Républicains (Conservatives) and the Rassemblement National (far-right) - which share the same racist, authoritarian, if not fascist agenda - it will take a great deal of imagination to see in Attal a man capable of standing up for the Republic and its proclaimed values.
Just like his predecessors, he will stand for Macron while the latter scrambles to keep his head above the water by continuously demonising the left and defining it as anti-Republic, solidifying the right’s grip on lawmaking and institutions.
If domestic politics is marked by a race to the bottom, foreign policy has not been spared. France’s official support to the ongoing genocide in Gaza has not been put into question.
The new Minister of Foreign affairs and Attal’s former partner Stéphane Séjourné, rather than seizing the moment to reposition France as the champion of human rights it claims to be, though it is arguably laughable to believe it given the country’s track record, doubled down by discrediting South Africa’s ICJ case, saying “To accuse the Jewish State of genocide is to cross a moral threshold”.
It's a hard to conceal display of European guilt towards Jews, which Palestinians pay the price for, and, in a pure Macron fashion, using rhetoric to make up for the absence of political backbone.
International observers would be better advised to stop looking up to France as some sort of moderating voice to American imperialism. There was indeed a time where the country had a say on international affairs but those days are long gone.
If Gabriel Attal is described as having been “recruited” by Emmanuel Macron, the message to the French people and the rest of the world is that the latter is the real decision maker.
How long before French people collectively put this to an end remains to be seen. Angers have so far failed to add up and successfully bring down Macron. The left has failed to widen its base and overcome divisions while the far-right has successfully brought the traditional Conservative Party into its orbit, shifting the centre of gravity of French politics closer to it.
As if to signify their permeability to Islamophobia, leading figures of the left like presidential hopeful Francis Ruffin from La France Insoumise and the new and young head of the CGT union Sophie Binet both supported the abaya ban.
The future for French people is of their own making. Though unhappy with their government, they have still supported the witch hunt against Muslims, as if throwing their neighbours under the bus would somehow help them climb onboard.
Yasser Louati is a French political analyst and head of the Committee for Justice & Liberties (CJL). He hosts a hit podcast called "Le Breakdown with Yasser Louati" in English and "Les Idées Libres" in French.
Follow him on Twitter: @yasserlouati
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.