LEADING FIGURES - CHRISTIAN DARGNAT - How Macron conquered France
Christian Dargnat says En Marche! came into being thanks to money, a programme and organization. Then Emmanuel Macron dared proclaim that “we’re in favour of Europe”.
- Thursday, 01 March 2018
In an exclusive interview with Eastwest, one of the French president’s closest collaborators reveals many of the secrets behind Emmanuel Macron’s amazing and victorious presidential campaign: a blend of courage, sharp use of the web, organisation and vision. What’s missing in Italy for a repeat of the Macron phenomenon?
You founded En Marche with Emmanuel Macron, and you’ve often said the party was built from scratch. Just three months before you won the elections, many analysts still didn’t believe in you. But you even managed to win the parliamentary elections. How did you achieve such an overwhelming victory?
When we first decided to set up the political movement, we started out with two basic considerations. The first was that right now it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly who’s on the left and who is on the right; people are right-wing about some things and left-wing about others. Often they have no idea how to vote. We decided to replace the right/left dichotomy with conservatives/progressives. There are people in favour of the status quo, both on the left and on the right, and people who instead want to move forward on both sides of the political spectrum. This was the first shift, an update of dualism. The second was based on the fact that France has a very high percentage of voluntary associations (France has the per capita world record in this field), people who want to invest their time, energy and even money for causes they believe in. But politics offered no opportunities. People were fed up with politicians, with the same people swapping places for decades, both left and right. The time had come to clean up the political act.
We had three goals we intended to pursue. The first was ensuring that the movement was rooted at a local level, throughout France, and we used social networks to promote these local groups until we managed to form a party. The second was defining our programme. Macron, who was minister of economy and finance at the time, was known for his economic ideas. We had to establish what our position was on social issues, on international politics, on the economy. The third aspect was finding the funds to pay for it all. So we built an organisation. At first there were a dozen of us, and then the movement started to grow, but much of the credit has to go to Macron, whose charisma and intelligence ultimately managed to inspire millions of people.
Up until the French elections, populismseemed to be winning everywhere in Europe. You were the first, and so far the only ones, to hold your own. You won out easily in the head-on clash with Marine Le Pen. Is there any particular secret that enabled you to stem the tide of populism?
Macron dared to say, “We are in favour of Europe”. Being in favour or against a united Europe is a clear way of separating conservatives from progressives. The same goes for Italy. We also said that Europe clearly isn’t working as it should, but being in favour of Europe means that we want to build it, upgrade it, reinvent it, make the dream come true. After 20 years in which all traditional political parties have criticised Europe and blamed Brussels for pretty much everything. Our decision to challenge this way of thinking restored faith in many who no longer trusted Europe. This was a very important move. Three other factors led to our success, as I see it. One was timing. During the campaign, which lasted a whole year, it was important to understand when a certain event should be held. The second factor was our readiness to take risks. Macron often says he loves taking risks, even in his speeches, and surrounding himself with people who know how to take risks. He said as much to the French people: You must dare. There’s plenty of energy in Italy, too. Many things are going well, but much like in France, the media only harp on about what’s going wrong. We’ve had enough. Whether things are in line or out of kilter, one still has to change and improve. Macron has often underlined how French culture, like Italian culture, is an amazing asset. The third factor is having good people in the right places. We were very careful to put the best in every sector so that people would feel motivated. These three factors are very important. And then there’s Macron, with his charisma and the interest people show towards him as an individual. A young man, with a wife 20 years his elder, he also had a personal story to tell. That went down very well.
Another question about your amazing campaign, one of the most spectacular events of 2017. You were very involved in social networks. Some consider them to be the reason for populisms having achieved such success. Marine Le Pen relied on a very simple form of rhetoric and lost. Trump used a similar rhetoric and won. I think much depends on who you’re up against. I’m convinced that the Democrats backed the wrong candidate. How did you work out the best way to use social media?
This was one of our main priorities throughout the campaign. In France, Front National and France Insoumise(led by Jean-Luc Mélanchon) are the social media experts. The reason is historical. For years, the far-right and far-left parties had no access to traditional media and had to resort to other forms of communication. Today these are the ways one can best influence people, in America and in France. We asked ourselves how we could compete with these factions, who had such a head start. We had less power and less money, so we had to do things differently, we had to innovate. We used a series of differentmessages, some amusing or featuring fun music, or we offered young people who no one knew the chance to speak their minds. It was important for us to set ourselves apart. And we used social media to mobilise our supporters. For example, we’d say, “We need 10-30 people this evening in this district of Marseille”. We used social media more as a mobilisation tool than a communication medium. Macron would speak to journalists and businessmen through traditional media, but we used social media in a different way.
Let’s talk about the future. The EU is currently propped up on two legs, yours and Germany’s. Thinking of Italy, and hoping to have three legs in a couple of months, what kind of EU can we imagine building? Can we take some decisive steps in the four years ahead? Is the defence union a real possibility? And will we have a budget for it?
It’s essential that Europe be rebuilt right away after the European elections. We have three options. The first is to keep the status quo that no one seems to appreciate and has obvious limitations. The second is to turn back and resort to a more nationalist approach, but if we choose this path we must realise that we will never be able to compete with China, India or the US on an economic front. And we know that reinforcing borders is never an answer to migration problems, nor to domestic social or economic ones. Therefore the only positive way forward is our third option: rebuilding Europe, which means offering something to our citizens. During the campaign, Macron presented his European programme. His first point was the need to establish European sovereignty, introduce European security measures, organise defence, control migration, address climate change and the digital revolution. That’s why we need a community budget. After the banking union, we must move towards fiscal convergence.
The current community budget is set at 1% of GDP, 50% of which goes to agriculture. Do you think it possible for us to raise it to 2% soon while improving diversification?
We have to make this proposal. And then we’ll know who wants to raise the European budget to 2% and who says “No, never, we want to go back to 0.5%”. The second point in the programme is rebuilding a sense of being European. It’s what we’ve called the European conventions, a programme resembling the one we put in practice in France at the beginning of En Marche. We went door to door to speak to our citizens. What does the man in the street think Europe should be doing? Decisions should not all be taken in Brussels, so that people can feel involved in the European concept. Third, we must bear in mind that Europe is democratic. When Poland and Hungary promote non-democratic regimes, that is unacceptable. Either we are in favour of a social democratic and liberal democracy, or we’re not in favour of a democratic Europe, in which case we can’t ride in the same boat. We have to present a programme based on these arguments in France, Italy and Germany and see who is in favour and who is against. Perhaps we will then discover that countries to the right are in favour and others to the left are against, or vice versa. Without such a programme, it will be difficult for Europe to remain a major trade and political power in the future. We have to accept the idea that countries may not agree on every issue. Italy, France and Germany may move ahead together on some issues, and on others they might not want to. We have to accept an EU with a variable geometry. Today, and from the outset, everyone has instead had to travel at the same speed. We know that this is impossible because we have different problems, different cultures. In France, we’re looking to set up something solid with Germany and Italy. Last January in Rome, Macon presented a treaty with Italy along the lines of a previous one with Germany. The French-German alliance has been acting as the European powerhouse for 50 years, though less so in the last 15-20 years, but we also know that France and Germany cannot go it alone. Italy must also be on their side.
Your campaign was a success, but one of the main problems of Western democracies is that we are almost always engaged in an electoral campaign. There’s no time to impose tough policies which may be beneficial in the medium-term because one always has to respond to the polls. President Macron is managing to do it at the moment, but what does one have to do to stay ahead of the game?
Macron implements what he promised during the campaign on a daily basis. That is crucial. Over the last 20-30 years, no head of state in France ever kept his word after elections. After the people elected Holland, Sarkozy and Chirac, the presidents were supposed to implement their programmes. They never did. That’s a denial of democracy. Why should we then be surprised that people no longer believe their political representatives? After his election, Macron has done exactly what he said he would do every single day. So long as you implement the policies you have promised, the people you intend to promote, you can be criticised, but you won’t disappoint. That’s why Macron, so far, in just eight months, has managed to climb back in the polls, and has shown that he deserves respect because he’s doing what he promised he would. That is the first reason. The second is that he is proving to be real statesman, someone with a vision for his country who is capable of making decisions, however unpopular. And people appreciate that.
So the reforms of schools and employment, in spite of the street demonstrations, have ultimately led to his improved standing in the polls because people have realised that the aim is to restart the country so it can play a new role in the medium term.
And how you go about it also makes a difference. People haven’t filled the streets in droves because we’ve applied a very clear method. We say what we mean to do. Then before doing it, we discuss it. We speak to the trade unions, the businesses and all stakeholders. The government listens, discusses the matter with each of them. We abide by these three phases: discussion, decision, implementation. We want to be known for our professional outlook, compared to the previous presidency where confusion seemed to reign supreme.