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Right, Left, and Macron

At a time of deepening inequality, the primary challenge France faces is to shift its focus from damage control to damage prevention. President Emmanuel Macron’s policies will need to be assessed on the basis of that goal, not according to ideological labels that have lost significance.

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron, once viewed as the quintessential centrist, has lately been labeled a right-wing politician. He has, after all, eliminated the wealth tax, introduced greater labor-market flexibility, cut housing benefits, and introduced reforms to higher education – policies that a majority of right-wing voters embrace. But things aren’t quite that cut and dried.

The right-left divide remains deeply felt in France. The right has traditionally emphasized freedom – breaking down barriers that impede individuals’ ability to create. The left has focused on equality, pursuing policies that aim to create a level playing field through redistribution. This division remains particularly acute in economic and social policy, though it also extends to other areas, like education policy (for example, extended education versus early specialization).

Yet the truth is that the fundamentally redistributive nature of the French state has narrowed the gap between the two sides considerably in recent decades. At the same time, divergences within the two main camps have grown, making it much more difficult to distinguish clearly two opposing perspectives.