France is to be locked down until 11 May, and possibly longer. Whether the credibility of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency can survive that long is now in question.
Macron’s state broadcast on Monday evening was billed in advance as Churchillian but this president does not do inspiration. His message was defensive and grim, with elements of incoherence. Even normally complaisant French pundits are scathing.
Macron’s promise of support to France’s desperately overwhelmed hospitals was denounced as ‘too late’ by nurses interviewed immediately after the broadcast. Patrick Bouet, president of the national council of physicians, pronounced the lifting of confinement to be premature and potentially catastrophic. (Medics loathe Macron after he showed up at a hospital last week and argued with a nurse who denounced the lack of personal protection equipment. She was loudly applauded by her colleagues. Macron refused to accept responsibility.)
The summer tourist season is definitively cancelled. Sport is cancelled. Factories and markets are closed. The progress of the disease seems unchecked. The frontiers will stay shut. Restaurants, hotels, cinemas, theatres and cafes will remain closed. Tourism is worth £174bn (€200bn) to the French economy and accounts for three million jobs. Face masks, which we were told were utterly useless, will now be provided to everyone, but not for another month.
Schools will reopen in mid-May, which will enable parents to return to work. Whether they will have jobs to return to is another question. The economy is in a state of collapse. What Macron didn’t say in the address was just as striking. The economic reform project was unmentioned and is obviously abandoned.
Macron’s Europeanism and globalism has been jettisoned. There was mere lip service to continental solidarity, a recognition that his beloved EU has been essentially useless in this crisis. He spoke instead of national self-dependence.
He did glancingly note the failure of the state. Was France prepared? Evidently not, he admitted. There had been a lack of protective equipment for medical teams. But no promise when this would be fixed.
Macron’s popularity has collapsed in the last month, down 17 points in ten days, with little more than a third of the country expressing confidence in the president or his government to manage the crisis.
The man who spoke practically uninterrupted for 92 hours during his great national debate after the uprising of the gilets jaunes in 2018 has no talent for brevity. Last night’s performance continued for a dreary 30 minutes and by the end, it was hard to imagine his re-election can anymore be guaranteed. Macron can’t win. If he lifts the confinement, he risks a second, lethal wave of infection. If he doesn’t, the economy will collapse entirely. Events are doing for Macron. His inability to communicate adds toxicity to this. A presidency that began with the promise of a new beginning for France is now at a stage of ignominy.
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Jonathan Miller is the author of France a Nation on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Gibson Square). He tweets at @lefoudubaron