It’s been five years since Emmanuel Macron rocked the French political establishment with his victory in the 2017 presidential elections. France is now returning to the polls in April for two rounds of voting, with the next president due to be announced on April 24. Macron is the favourite to win a second five-year term. In this episode of The Conversation Weekly, we ask two French politics experts: how has Macron changed the French political system?
And later in the show, we talk to a researcher about humanity’s long love affair with bees – and how people expressed this appreciation through art for thousands of years.
Macron, a former minister in the government of socialist president François Hollande, upended France’s established political parties with his 2017 election victory. He created a political movement, En Marche, which echoed his initials. The movement evolved into a new centrist political party, La République En Marche which then won a substantial majority in the French national assembly.
Five years on, with Macron riding high in the polls, what has he actually done to France and its politics?
“The greatest change that has occurred during Macron’s presidency is the polarisation of the French political system,” says Gilles Ivaldi, a researcher in politics at the Centre for Political Research at Sciences Po in Paris, France. Ivaldi explains that Macron seized the centre-ground of French politics. “Because of that, he’s weakened all the previously dominant parties of the left and right and therefore he’s opened space for more radical parties,” he says.
Ivaldi says his surveys of the French electorate show more and more people are placing themselves on the right in French politics. “The polarisation is asymmetrical. It has happened more to the right of the French party system than to the left of it,” he says. This shift to the right was already happening before Macron, but the manner of his victory – and his shift to the right during the past five years – exacerbated it, according to Ivaldi.
Anne-Cécile Douillet, a professor of political science at the University of Lille in France, has co-edited a new book about the Macron presidency. In his campaign for the presidency, Macron promised a revolution – and used that word as the title of a book he published in 2016. Douillet says Macron wanted to “disrupt things, to call into question the political system and to overcome the left-right divide”. But the assessment of the researchers who contributed to her new book is that the changes have actually been relatively limited. “We’re far from a revolution,” says Douillet, pointing to the lack of constitutional reform during Macron’s five years in office.
She explains that a wave of MPs was elected in 2017 who were completely new to French politics – but many were inexperienced in the ways of government and “that has also contributed to the executive branch taking on more importance than the parliament”. While the influx of new MPs has led to a renewal, Douillet says this didn’t lead to a fundamental renewal of the French political elite. “There hasn’t been any challenge to the over-representation of the upper classes in the national assembly,” she explains, adding that the proportion of managers and professionals in the assembly has remained the same.
War anxiety makes French voters rally round Macron. For how long?
In our second story, we turn to the long connection between humans and bees, and how people around the world expressed that through art. Adrian Dyer, a bee expert and associate professor at RMIT University in Melbourne, and his colleagues looked into where bees appear in human culture throughout history. “The oldest art representation we found was a person climbing a ladder in caves in the Spider Caves (Cuevas de la Araña) in Spain, about 8000BC, to collect honey from a beehive,” says Dyer. He tells us where else bees have popped up in human culture.
And Claudia Lorenzo, culture editor for The Conversation in Madrid, Spain, talks about the Ukrainian cultural heritage at risk from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This episode of The Conversation Weekly was produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom or via email. You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here.
Newsclips in this episode are from CNN, Global News, France 24 English, DW News and La République En Marche. The extract from La Marseillaise is from DN Anthems.
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Anne-Cécile Douillet has received funding from the Masion Européenne des Sciences de l'Homme et de la Société for the publication of the book L'entreprise Macron à l'épreuve du pouvoir.
Gilles Ivaldi has received funding from the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) in France.
Adrian Dyer receives funding from the Australian Research Council.