This Wednesday Emmanuel Macron had lunch with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. On the eve of the European Union summit in Versailles, there was probably little talk of the presidential campaign in France. Too bad: Emmanuel Macron could have asked his counterpart how he managed to do it in his country’s last elections, in 2021, when he was leaving… no fewer than four radio and television debates against the other candidates. Very little for Emmanuel Macron, who confirmed on Monday evening on the sidelines of his trip to Poissy that he would not face his opponents before the first round.
Why ? “No incumbent president running for re-election has done that. Why else would I do it? the presidential candidate argued. It is actually true. The two debates organized in 2017 (on TF1 with the 5 main candidates and on CNews and BFMTV with 11 candidates) were the first real debates before the first round of a presidential election hosted in France. And there was none going out in their ranks. The outgoing, François Hollande, even found “the idea terrible” and “dangerous”, nothing less. In France, the duel between the two rounds has been the practice since 1974. There was only one exception, in 2002, when Jacques Chirac refused to debate Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Oppositions are outraged, but essentially not surprised. “There is a form of systematic evasion,” Valérie Pécresse said on Wednesday, who has been clamoring for a debate with all candidates for weeks. “I can’t believe he decides not to participate in debates. He is in the continuity of his monarchist presidency,” suffocated the rebellious deputy Eric Coquerel, who nevertheless wants to try to “put pressure” on the candidate for president. Nathalie Arthaud “regrets” Emmanuel Macron’s decision.
The presidency’s historic argument is considered unconvincing: it would be a first, yes, but “it would also be progress”, noted a month ago in Le Figaro Pascal Perrineau. At the same time, the political scientist, mostly balanced, had no words harsh enough about the public senate to qualify a possible refusal to debate Emmanuel Macron: “There is a disturbing sign of democratic immaturity, of continuity of monarchical reflexes belonging to to another time (…) It’s insane, it’s incomprehensible!“We pass for old-fashioned”, he blurted out even when it came to European standards.
The case of France almost unique in Western Europe
France is still far, very far from these standards. Mark Rutte, since we have set his example, Prime Minister of the Netherlands since 2010, has participated in a dozen debates since taking office – precisely during the election period – against his opponents. Pedro Sanchez in Spain, Antonio Costa in Portugal, Boris Johnson in the UK. In Denmark, Norway, Sweden. Even Angela Merkel in her day… All incumbents debate with their opponents before the election. And usually rather twice than once. In the Scandinavian countries, it is not even unusual for the Prime Minister in office to participate in this type of competition with the leaders of the other parties outside the election period. Very exotic political mores for France.
Among hikers, Emmanuel Macron’s decision is clear. “It’s all been said, right? we hear ourselves say as we try to discuss the topic. On France Inter, government spokesman Gabriel Attal simply added that he wanted to avoid “a rat race” where the president would be against everyone alone to set his record But isn’t this the principle of an election campaign for the incumbent?
Thus, five years after the campaign of disruption, Emmanuel Macron has returned to the – very comfortable – rank of the Fifth Republic. Sure, we’re not learning today. But for Luc Rouban, from Cevipof, questioned by 20 minutes, this marks a change in macronism. “We are a long way from the horizontality shown in 2016-2017. It is now more vertical. The discourse outside parties, and right and left, of 2017 has turned into a discourse over parties. Macronism is much more Gaulish in 2022.” All this in a context where “distrust and democratic malaise have not disappeared”.
Result: no discussion. Or formats where the candidates sit at the table all evening in succession, such as on France 2 in April 2017. A kind of “wicket format”. The first takes place on Monday evening, on TF1. And why no debates, but without Emmanuel Macron? Rebellious Deputy Eric Coquerel wonders: “It is not possible for the media to fulfill the wishes of the President, it is a democratic duty. It will then not be necessary to come to shed crocodile tears at the abstinence. Complicated because of the speaking time rules.
Yet there is a precedent: France 2 had organized a confrontational debate in 2012… But where Nicolas Sarkozy was represented by a spokesperson. As a result, neither François Hollande, nor Marine Le Pen, nor Jean-Luc Mélenchon were there either. The debate without the leading quartet was broadcast in the second part of the evening. By organizing a debate with everyone but without Macron, there is a risk of establishing that the presidential campaign has finally turned into a political version of “Everyone wants to take his place”: with challengers against a champion who, he, only makes the final fetches .