Is Francois Hollande the new face of capitalism in France? Maybe not—but the man he’s backing, Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, sure is. So too is “Macron’s Law”, the new (and highly controversial) set of loosened business regulations that Hollande just forced through by extraordinary means. So perhaps the answer to the question about Hollande is, not yet?A Wall Street Journal profile of Macron out today sheds further light on the subject. It’s a fascinating portrait of a man who alternated between government, investment banking, and running an internet start-up, and who compares his role to being “sort of a prostitute […] Seduction is the job.” But on a deeper level, it’s about the conversion of French President Francois Hollande from a hard-line socialist to something more capitalist:
By backing Mr. Macron, Mr. Hollande is turning away from his past as an apparatchik who focused on appeasing the Socialist Party’s left with tax-the-rich policies and employment programs that stretched France’s finances, such as job subsidies for more than 150,000 young people.[…] In interviews with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Macron said he is planning to strengthen his namesake legislation in ways that are likely to widen the divide. For example, he wants to allow companies to sidestep rigid labor rules and negotiate directly with employees, a move that could tread on France’s hallowed 35-hour workweek.
Hollande is not the first Socialist President of France to “grow” in office. The most famous example is probably that of Francois Mitterrand, who started his time in office in alliance with the Communists, only to find himself a few years later to be the champion of austerity. Yet this repeated lesson doesn’t seem to produce a “Nixon to China” moment, because the rest of the socialists have not changed with their leader. Mitterrand fought hideous battles with his own party; Hollande has had to use his powers as President to skirt the Senate in the first push for reform.In the face of such history, it would be foolhardy to predict that this time will be different. True, the pressures for reform have rarely been stronger, as France falls in behind rival and partner Germany. (Both EU officials and Chancellor Merkel have made their support for the Macron reforms plain, as the WSJ notes.) But in France, socialist ideology has proved to have deep staying power. One thing is for sure: Macron and Hollande are in for an interesting ride ahead.