Emmanel MacronTV news interview at 1PM: a new symptom of the fragmentation of French political life
On Wednesday, March 2022, right after the rejection of the motions of no confidence by the National Assembly and therefore the adoption of the pension reform Emmanuel Macron addressed the French, in a joint interview for TF1 and France 2 during the 1pm TV news. An unusual schedule that has been largely discussed: for the President’s entourage, this was motivated by the will to reach the “territorial” audience, as well as to accommodate the President’s busy agenda over the upcoming weeks. For the political opponents, it was plainly a way to exclude a majority of the French.
Other arguments could explain this choice. For example, a will to avoid triggering street riots later that day. Or for the President to be faced with two journalists less accustomed to this kind of interview – both seemed tense during the exchange – and who are judged less “pugnacious” than their 8PM colleagues. One can remember that Anne-Sophie Lapix (France 2’s 8PM anchor woman) had been willingly excluded from hosting the second round of the presidential debate by then-candidate Emmanuel Macron.
Even though this interview was quite followed, with 1.1 million of the 26-49 age range watching out of a total of 11.5 million viewers, Emmanuel Macron still excluded a large part of workers. This choice naturally benefited older and retired people, who represent the majority of mid-day TV television watchers. The average age of viewers was 60 years old, for both TF1 and France 2.
This decision is representative of a new symptom of the segmentation of political life. A dynamic illustrated by political forces that solely address their own electorate, and that is reinforced by the infamous “Filter bubble” of social media, preventing people from being confronted with other points of view.
In 2017, Emmanuel Macron did however make the “En même temps” (“at the same time”) strategy the core of his political target, reviving the figure of the “catch-all” parties. But the 2022 presidential election was a completely opposite dynamic. As a matter of fact, seniors were the foundation of Macron’s electorate: 59% of 60-69 years old, and 71% of 70 years old and over voted for him. They represent a loyal and mobilized base, less affected by abstention.
The pension reform was aiming this electoral base, as seniors were the only population category in favor of extending the contribution period. This would then allow to consolidate the electoral base of M Macron party, Renaissance . But the President and his Government never managed to convince the rest of the French people of the necessity of this reform. This was the only regret the President expressed during the interview.
The narrative surrounding the purpose of the reform kept varying depending on circumstances and was aggravated by the many contradictions and technical approximations of the Prime Minister and her Ministers during the debates. This gave the impression that the Government did not completely master its own reform, or, worst-case scenario, purposely maintained a certain confusion around its key points.
Moreover, the Government trapped itself by constantly reiterating its desire to prioritize a vote in the National Assembly rather than to use Article 49.3 to pass the reform. The Prime Minister and her Government therefore embarked themselves on a “race for votes” that ended in another failure and resorted to using the49.3. By doing so, the Government gave the impression that it did not want to face the obstacles and were purposely avoiding them. This attitude triggered anger within the population and aggravated social tensions, particularly among young people.
In this context, how can we forsee what the rest of the presidential term will be made of? During his interview, Emmanuel Macron brought up future considerations, with a desire to form majorities around a certain number of divisive reforms- such as on immigration – by dividing legal texts. This has already been done for laws relative to energy: the text on nuclear power had been supported by the Republicans and the far-right party Rassemblement National, and the bill on renewable energies was largely supported by the Left. This seems to be the only option left for the President, who has had to deal with a relative majority since the beginning of his second term. But for this to happen, the social climate must calm down. In the case of the pension reform, the Constitutional Council might censor the law – which remains unlikely, at least for its main clauses (retirement age and duration of contribution). And the population might give in once the law is promulgated, but with an increased risk of uncontrolled protests, a rise in violence, and a Government that remains largely paralyzed.