On his recent visit to Britain Macron said, “If you want access to the single market, including the financial services, be my guest but it means you need to contribute to the budget and acknowledge the European jurisdiction.” That’s very generous of him but it does sound a little arrogant, perhaps it was just a casual use of an English colloquialism but it sounded like the offer is up to him. He was elected President of France, not head of the EU; nor was he crowned King of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Crown Dependencies, the British Overseas Territories and the Commonwealth. Except that with Merkel mired in a coalition that doesn’t look likely to be popular in Germany, Macron may well become the de facto leader of the 27.
To be fair Macron did make the very generous offer to loan the Bayeux Tapestry to Britain, a gesture of reconciliation for a defeat inflicted on us by the French, even if that was 952 years ago. Actually Macron hasn’t the power to offer such a national treasure without the approval of the French Government so it may take a while before the tapestry is displayed in Hastings, the British Museum or whichever site is chosen – we will probably have left the EU by the time permission is granted, maybe just in time to celebrate its millennium.
Some think the loan is a reminder of French victories and suggest we offer in return to loan them the Rosetta Stone. This was taken from Napoleon’s troops after they surrendered Egypt to the British. It is interesting that the message written on the stone is about the Pharaoh declaring the forgiveness of debts, so releasing those who became slaves because they couldn’t repay loans, or more likely releasing the children of the debtors who could be accepted in their place. It seems Britain is to be encumbered by debts that will eventually have to be paid by our children since the money will have to be borrowed for now.
Macron admitted in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the French would probably vote for Frexit if given the opportunity, just as they voted against the EU Constitution proposed by their own ex-President Giscard d’Estaing. Asked if the French would vote to leave the EU in the same way, he said: “Yes. Probably, in a similar context. But our context was very different, so I don’t want to take any bets. I would have definitely fought to win. But I think it is a mistake to just ask yes or no when you don’t ask people how to improve the situation and to explain how to improve it.” He added: “You always take a risk when you ask in a referendum yes or no on a very complicated subject.”
Perhaps what Macron meant when he said the French too would probably vote for Frexit was a little unclear, he was speaking in English after all. Reading his words more carefully he (probably) meant that if the French were in the same position as the British they would probably vote the same way but since they aren’t, they probably wouldn’t. What position was he thinking of, too much immigration perhaps? This seems to be an issue that concerns many voters throughout the EU though in some countries it is about refugees rather than cheap labour from poorer parts of the Union. Clearly France and Britain are not in exactly the same position whatever issues Macron was referring to but he prefers not to ask his citizens a simple (yes/no) or more subtle question, rather he wants to plunge them into more and more integration of financial systems, defence capabilities and other things.
Of course French voters chose Macron knowing he was an EU integrationist in a simple binary contest against someone who many saw as an unelectable neo-fascist. By his own logic they should surely be given an opportunity to choose what they really want. But we know he won’t take that risk. President Macron is too Magnificent to offer his subjects any choice, never mind a simple one.
He reveals a widespread characteristic of those ‘in charge’ who have deep disdain for ‘the populace’ when he juxtaposes two things that don’t sit well together, “…ask people how to improve the situation and to explain how to improve it”. He knows perfectly well how to “improve it” – he is after all magnificent as well as munificent – so he doesn’t need to “ask people”. We can be sure that his efforts to persuade the EU to engage citizens in ‘consultations’ would not bring about improvements in any sense that we would understand, for example, introducing a way to get rid of a government. What such consultations might do is encourage and enable people to air their complaints and so get them off their chests and into the to-be-forgotten bin, thus improving the comfort of those in charge.