On the surface, tighter borders and export restrictions may look like a coup for right-wing populism. But countries like France are already moving leftward—and they won't be the lastby Cécile Guerin / March 18, 2020 / Leave a comment
“We are at war—a sanitary war for sure. We are not fighting an army, or another nation. But the enemy is here, invisible, elusive, advancing. And it requires everyone’s mobilisation.” These were the martial words President Macron delivered to the nation in a prime-time televised address on 16th March in response to the growing crisis of coronavirus. A record 35 million viewers listened in.
In his speech, Macron announced a raft of drastic measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus in France. Following Italy, the president effectively imposed a lockdown on the country, while shying away from using the word (he spoke of “war” six times instead). For two weeks, French people are requested not to go out, except for urgent reasons such as grocery shopping, to do essential work and for medical visits.
The government has enlisted 100,000 police staff to enforce the measures, with fines of up to 135 euros for violations. Meanwhile, the second round of France’s mayoral actions has been postponed.
The country looked as if it was at war yesterday, the streets of major cities eerily silent, and these exceptional measures—unseen in peacetime—have turned a president dogged by unpopularity and protest into a war leader.
An unprecedented shift
Seen from France, the coronavirus lockdown looks unprecedented. It has not only transformed French cities, but it also seems to have ushered in a new political time, and a shift towards strong state intervention.
“The nation will support its children,” Macron asserted in Monday’s speech. The president shelved his controversial pension plan reforms and announced a 300-billion-euro loan package for businesses, alongside a freeze on rent and utility bills for small companies. Unemployment benefits have been extended, and hotels and taxis requisitioned to support medical staff. Doctors and nurses will have access to free childcare while they tend to the sick.
This strong state intervention, made necessary by the challenge of fighting a fast-advancing pandemic, marks a radical shift from the free-market liberalism which Macron’s opponents have reviled him for.
The new normal?
Whether Macron’s response to the crisis will reconcile the nation with its president in the long run remains uncertain, but there are signs that the government has found renewed support among the French public. A Harris Interactive…