After months of inbound slings and arrows, Emmanuel Macron, powdered by the star dust of the royal visit, relaunched himself on Sunday night. His presidential address from the Elysée Palace was officially described as an interview but the French journalists who were on set posing the questions were purely props. The star of the show was Macron.
Macron ignored and patronized Anne-Claire Coudray, a Grande Dame of French television. “Attendez, attendez,” he ordered her at one point, when she dared to ask him a question. Not that he paid much more attention to the handsomely coiffed Laurent Delahousse, another establishment French TV journalist.
The president talked incessantly. He has mastered the actor’s art of never pausing for breath. His message, entirely undisputed by his interlocutors, was a very lightly modified “tout est parfait.” And where, due to events beyond the president’s control, things might not be precisely so great, it wasn’t his fault.
Perhaps a better comparison to Macron is A.A. Milne’s irrepressible Tigger from The House at Pooh Corner
Macron launched his show by recalling his recent moment of glory, the British royal state visit. “Which one is the king?” was the joke as the two heads of state surfed the carefully vetted crowds.
He reveled how in a single week he had welcomed King Charles III to Paris, Pope Francis to Marseille, and hosted the Rugby World Cup. (France beat Namibia on Thursday, 96-0). With the Paris 2024 Olympic Games to come, Macron the statesman defined himself as France’s host to the world.
Macron has been compared by some to Louis XIV, the Sun King. He has compared himself to Jupiter. On the evidence of Sunday night, perhaps a better comparison is A.A. Milne’s irrepressible Tigger from The House at Pooh Corner.
The period since Macron’s re-election as president in 2022 (as the lesser of two evils, seeing as his opponent was Marine Le Pen) has been punishing. In the spring he fought angry unions opposing his pension reform. The reform didn’t amount to much but there were plenty of demonstrations, some of them violent.
A weak prime minister and the loss of Macron’s presidential majority in the National Assembly continue to handicap him. The war in Ukraine; the collapse of Françafrique to gangsters, Islamists and Russians; the migration crisis; political unrest over energy prices; doubts over the national climate change strategy; drug wars and mass killings in places like Marseille; riots in Paris, and Macron’s beloved European Union in economic and political crisis — this is not even a comprehensive list of what is besieging him.
If the president had seemed a little gloomy of late, the message on Sunday night was that he has confidently bounced back, reanimated by the royal touch. It was a confident, bravura TV performance from the former drama student, perhaps episodically a little hypomanic, broadcast from a progressive, dramatic, monochrome, ultra-modern set.
It’s impossible to imagine Macron faced with questioning by a competent American political journalist. A serious journalist might have confronted the president with the many contradictions and questionable assertions that he delivered so confidently. But there’s no pretence of forensic challenge.
Macron’s claim that Operation Barkhane, the French effort to pacify the Sahel, had been a success, when it was abject, ending in the withdrawal of French forces with anarchy in their wake, was allowed to pass without even a raised eyebrow from the timorous interrogators.
On Friday, Pope Francis demanded in Marseille that more immigrants be welcomed. Macron batted this aside. The Pope was right when he called for compassion for migrants, said Macron. But France had made its contribution and could not receive the miserable of the entire world, he said.
The other bubbling crisis is the economy — inflation in France is approaching 5 percent, driven by high fuel prices — and here too Macron was untroubled by interrogation. The cost of living crisis was not his fault, he declared. Diesel and gasoline prices were not his fault. Property tax increases — up 63 percent in Paris — were not his fault but the responsibility of local authorities.
It is embarrassing that star French journalists allow themselves to be humiliated and exploited like this. But they know their place. The Elysée was never going to invite the smart, street-wise Christine Kelly or the insolent, relentlessly informed Pascal Praud to talk to Macron. This was a display of French political journalism at its incurious worst and a masterclass in political monologue and untrammeled self-belief from an unbowed president.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.