The Little Napoleon Rishi meets today is a much-damaged man and definitely NOT to be trusted!
THE French President will be in his element as he hosts his summit in Paris today with Rishi Sunak. Puffed up with quasiNapoleonic grandeur, Emmanuel Macron always adores posing as the global statesman, dispensing charm and condescension.
In advance of the event, he has managed to convey the impression that the British Prime Minister is coming to him as a supplicant, desperate for Gallic support to tackle illegal migration across the English Channel and desperate to improve Britain’s diplomatic relations with France after the friction of recent years.
Such discord — fuelled by rows over issues such as Brexit and the UK’s creation of a defence pact with Australia and the U.S., which cost France a huge submarine contract — was epitomised by Liz Truss’s jibe that she did not know whether Macron was ‘friend or foe’.
Sunak, a much less abrasive personality, will hope to smooth over this awkward past and build a new Entente Cordiale, helped by the apparent success of the deal he negotiated over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Yet the orgy of mutual admiration, courtesy and bonhomie that will be on display today at the Elysee Palace will never conceal the reality that, on the Channel crisis, Macron is all take and no give.
Reports indicate that he is poised to reject British demands that France should take back illegal migrants who make it to England.
Instead the French President will call for more cash from Britain to beef up security around Calais.
Experience shows, however, that this profligate, unbalanced approach is unlikely to achieve anything beyond the waste of taxpayers’ money.
Since 2014 Britain has paid France £232 million to expand beach patrols and surveillance — including £63 million in the past year alone.
Yet the number of crossings has continued to rise dramatically, with a record 45,000 migrants reaching Britain in small boats last year. Extra officers and equipment will make no difference, because the French authorities are unwilling either to arrest the migrants or intercept the boats, so the traffickers carry on their cruel, dangerous trade with impunity.
The truth is the French do not want to resolve the problem; they just want to export it to our shores and take as much of our money as possible.
Tragically, such cynical opportunism is characteristic of Macron’s rule.
France is in a mess, its public bitterly divided, its economy stagnant and the President’s own stature diminished on the international stage.
Macron may preen himself in front of Sunak today, but he has no justification to feel superior to the British leader given the scale of his spectacular failure since he was first elected in 2017.
He won a mandate then to embark on a programme of radical reform to boost France’s prosperity and rebuild its integrity.
Today he looks increasingly impotent as his country is beset by bitter strikes, soaring inflation, massive debts, bureaucratic sclerosis and explosive tensions over immigration. One recent poll revealed that 63 per cent of the public think that he is not up to the job.
‘We are in an unprecedented era of pessimism,’ argues Frederic Dabi of the polling company IFOP.
I do not write this with any feeling of insular smugness about France’s travails.
On the contrary, my wife and I are such Francophiles that we have a 19th-century house in a rural spot on the Brittany-Loire border, where we try to spend as much time as we can.
Surrounded by lush, rolling fields, our retreat is beautifully tranquil, while the local people could not be more hospitable, despite my execrable attempts at their language. It is striking how much they love their culture and respect their heritage. But that makes it all the more painful to see how badly they have been let down by their rulers.
In the towns and villages around us, the sense of decay is palpable, a phenomenon reflected by the endless strips of boarded- up shops and commercial premises.
Last year, 41,000 businesses went bust in France, 14,000 more than in the previous year. Nothing epitomises Macron’s isolation from the French people more graphically than the wave of strikes and mass demonstrations that have swept through the country in protest at his attempt to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
He says the present limit is financially unsustainable, but his claims are distrusted by the public, 70 per cent of whom oppose the change.
To most voters, Macron’s proposal is seen as an instrument to reward the affluent and punish the poor, hence the attacks on him as ‘ the President of the rich’.
Only three days ago, much of France was brought to a standstill by strikes organised by a vast range of occupations, from lorry drivers to refuse collectors, teachers and air traffic controllers.
According to one trade union estimate, no fewer than 3.5 million people came out onto the streets that day.
Macron may succeed in pushing this measure through France’s assembly, but in the process he will lose the last remnants of his political capital. He is far weaker than in 2018- 19 when the first nationwide protests were mounted against his drive for reform by the populist gilets jaunes (the French for yellow hi-viz jackets).
Through patience and tough police action, he broke the spirit of the rebellion, but such a display of authority would be beyond him now.
In the Assembly elections last year, his bloc of support, previously headed by the En Marche movement but now called the Ensemble coalition, lost more than 100 seats and its Parliamentary majority, as his leadership paid the price for not delivering on its promises.
The dynamic economy he pledged to create remains a distant dream, with the rate of inflation now at 7.2 per cent — far higher than experts predicted. Unemployment is more than double the level in Britain: in fact, joblessness among the young and the over-50s is significantly above the average for the developed world.
Macron came to power with a vision to reduce the size of the bloated French state and promote business growth.
He made a good start by slashing corporation tax from 33 to 25 per cent. But then he lost his nerve and his way.
As a result, French taxation remains among the most rapacious in the Western world, devouring 45 per cent of GDP compared to 33 per cent in Britain.
Macron might be unwilling to help Britain at the Channel, but he faces his own immigration crisis, one that risks inflaming conflict across his land. In 2022, there were 156,000 claims for asylum, 29 per cent more than in the previous year, while 320,000 foreigners were granted residency permits, compared to 193,000 a decade ago.
Recent figures showed that 48 per cent of all crimes in Paris are committed by foreigners, a proportion that rises to 70 per cent for muggings.
Macron has been no more impressive on the international stage. His support for Ukraine has been lukewarm; his hopes of spearheading a new push for EU integration have been dashed.
In view of his dismal record, he is no position to lecture us about the management of our country. So Rishi’s tone today should be courteous and business- like, but he should not overdo any gushing about a new era and a special relationship.
The hollow man of the Elysee is all about looking after No 1 and, as such, is not a man to be trusted.