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France

Eye on France: A letter from the president

media French President Emmanuel Macron attends a joint news conference with President of Burkina Faso Roch Marc Christian Kabore (not seen) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Pool

Yesterday, we learned that President Emmanuel Macron is planning to write a letter to the French people. Today’s papers have the full story. More or less.

According to right-wing daily Le Figaro, the presidential letter is timed for mid-January and will be about the great national debate which the administration promised to organize in the wake of the Yellow Vest protests.

There’ll be no monumental bill for stamps. The so-called “letter” will, in fact, be distributed on social media and published in the press.

The initiative, says Le Figaro, is a key part of Emmanuel Macron’s strategy to start turning around his poor public opinion standing.

The French leader is currently one point below the very low confidence rating of his predecessor, François Hollande, at the same stage, 18 months into a five-year mandate.

Determination, not resignation

The letter hasn’t been written yet, but the Elysée Palace has assured Le Figaro that it will offer a framework for the citizens’ debate, and explain what can be hoped for.

The actual writing will be done once the currently on-going gab-fest with the nation’s mayors comes to an end.

Broadly speaking, the four themes under consideration are: making France more green, collecting more money, organizing the State, and ensuring that democracy works better.

Previous presidential plume-pushers

Emmanuel Macron is not the first French president to take a pen to the people.

François Mitterrand wrote to the nation in 1988, and Nicolas Sarkozy did the same in 2012. But that’s as far as the comparison can be taken with Emmanuel’s effort, since Mitterrand and Sarkozy were busily trying to collect votes to ensure their respective re-elections. For the record, it worked for Mitterrand, it didn’t for Sarko.

So, instead of a modest review of the candidate’s remarkable performance over the course of his first mandate - Sarkozy’s modesty filled 34 densely-typed pages, Mitterrand was even longer - Macron will be attempting to get back in touch with a nation which, we’re encouraged to believe, has lost contact with its austere and distant leader.

The nation waits

Emmanuel Macron will have been heartened by the record 23 million people who watched his television address at the height of the yellow vest crisis early last month.

But that cost him at least ten billion euros in pre-Christmas gifts to the voiceless poor. This time, he’ll have to be careful about the tone (no condescension), the content (no more hand-outs, please) and the fact that the pen is mightier than the sword, especially when it’s in the hands of the political opposition.

Said opposition did not, for example, like the president’s New Year’s message.

He spoke for 16 minutes in a performance which the ruling majority considered “lucid and courageous”.

The economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, was ecstatic, or had, perhaps, overdone the juice at dinnertime. He thanked the president for his honesty, his determination, his commitment to France and to Europe. That’s a lot of juice.

Even Alain Juppé, the right-wing mayor of Bordeaux, was impressed, he finding Macron’s performance “excellent in both form and content”.

And, on the other hand, Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the hard-left thought the president was talking down to the people. He found the performance “flat” and often incomprehensible. When he did understand, it was even worse.

The far-right National Rally leader, Marine Le Pen, said the president is an “impostor”.

The socialists said the presidential message was clear: let’s have a broad-based national debate on topics which I have chosen and which I have no intention of changing.

Macron’s letter is going to have to be good.

Strong man leaves presidential team

One of the people who is currently sharpening his plume to contribute to that missive is Sylvain Fort, the man who directs President Macron’s communications team.

Sylvain is a presidential speech-writer and has been a member of the inner circle since the early days of the Marching Republic. And he’s the latest member of the Macron team to jump ship, it having been confirmed last night that he’ll leave the Elysée Palace before the end of this month. He wants to spend more time with his family. Dealing with the press and writing presidential speeches while dodging what's coming off the fan is not good for your blood pressure. Or your laundry bill.

Sylvain says he took on the job with total commitment, knowing that it could be for a limitied period only. That period has now expired and the man whose name would be "Strong" in English wants to move on to other horizons. He remains proudly faithful to Emmanuel Macron and to the Republic on the Move project.

I’ll take this opportunity, in case the President of the Republic should read this, to mention that my services as replacement speech- and letter-writer are available, for a modest monthly salary in five figures. After tax.

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