Blow a raspberry on French democracy

On his way to be the first president of the Fifth Republic to visit the Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes in mid-July, Macron spoke of “the handful of rules that I made on Monday” July 12. The visit was part of his desire to garner the voices of the Catholic right, the phrase was his description of the television show in which he announced how he intended to handle the epidemic in the teeth of the Delta variant: relaxation of the rules of distancing social but the application of vaccination by threatening the employment of those who refuse a vaccine, especially if they are health or care workers.

Decrees are things he loves. He has submitted fewer laws to the French parliament than his predecessors, François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, but has imposed many more measures by decree: 291 decrees so far, for only 180 laws passed.

The country’s Constitutional Court ruled in May this year that even if a decree was not validated by a parliamentary vote, it could retain the force of law, meaning it would escape the control of the Board of state, the highest administrative court in France. The advice has been a thorn in Macron’s side, demanding, for example, that the government make real progress on environmental issues before the end of this year.

Solo decision making

Against the backdrop of such an erosion of democratic accountability, it is not surprising that in France, public mistrust and cynicism around COVID has increased. Macron’s decision-making since the start of the pandemic has been clothed, at best, in half-truths and, at worst, in lies. Key decisions on when and how to act against the spread of the virus have all been guided by its political considerations rather than scientific advice. They are increasingly taken solo.

On the morning of July 12, journalists from the Elysee Palace declared that the president would not announce what he then “decreed” in the evening. On the first Monday in August, he did his own Internet Q&A, in a t-shirt, from his Mediterranean vacation home. Pushing aside the country’s health services, he told us he was there to address our concerns, to help us understand, as if only he could convince the holdouts who take to the streets in increasing numbers every weekend.

Barely half of the population is fully vaccinated, and the vaccine does not eliminate transmission of the Delta variant of the virus anyway. But the panoply of potential measures to stop the spread of the virus have been all but abandoned in favor of a vaccination campaign. This has not yet covered the entire population because the vaccines are not yet there for everyone.

It helps Macron focus on the little fringe who will forever refuse a vaccine. In his speech, everything is reversed, reversed. It is not the persistent failure of the French state to mobilize public services, industrial production and the general population against this epidemic that it wants us to denounce, but the most abject victims of this failure. It is not the erosion of the public health system or French science, but a handful of health workers ambushed by anti-vax propaganda that he wants to submit to scrutiny. The heroes of spring from last year are, for him, today’s scapegoats.

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