And now for France? Covid-19 appeals to rethink society

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                Après le chaos provoqué par la pandémie de coronavirus, les Français se demandent ce que l'avenir nous réserve. Certains espèrent que la crise conduira à une plus grande solidarité, d'autres craignent qu'elle puisse amplifier les fractures existantes dans la société.
            

Les contours de ce à quoi l'avenir pourrait ressembler ont été esquissés dans une allocution télévisée le 13 avril par le président Emmanuel Macron dans laquelle il a promis de refondre le contrat social pour favoriser les exclus.

But as the country prepares to emerge from isolation on May 11, few are convinced that we are at the dawn of a new era. Controversial French writer Michel Houellebecq said on Monday that the world would be “just the same, just a little worse.”

Even before the arrival of Covid-19, France was facing several crises at once.

Latent tensions

“We have not forgotten the crises that brought us here,” said Willy Pelletier, sociologist and coordinator of the Copernic Foundation, a leftist think tank in Paris.

“Hospitals were already in trouble before the pandemic; now they are overwhelmed, “he told RFI, attributing this to Macron’s liberalization for the overhaul of the health sector.

Government efforts to transform the country’s rented but expensive health care system have resulted in budget cuts and a decrease in the number of beds and medical personnel. Thousands of exhausted health workers left work last year, warning that healthcare services were on the verge of collapse.

“We have not forgotten that the government has still not abandoned its unemployment benefit reform,” says Pelletier of the bill, which makes it harder for unemployed workers to apply for benefits to encourage them to return to work. job.

Help the rich

Labor market changes brought thousands of yellow vests to the streets in November 2018 to protest the pro-trade policies of a president believed to favor the wealthy.

“The government has found billions to help companies like Air France and retailers cope with the pandemic, while families need help,” said Pelletier.

Although the authorities have proposed a financial rescue plan for small businesses likely to go bankrupt, Pelletier says they must go further.

“We need a ceiling on rental prices, especially in the Paris region, because once the dust settles, more jobs will be cut and people will simply no longer be able to pay.”

The European Union predicted a “recession of historic proportions this year” on Wednesday, warning that the French economy would contract by around 8.2%.

Sets for Le Pen

In order to stem the slowdown, Pelletier argues that the government must provide everyone with a basic level of security.

“We don’t need a more violent liberalism where everyone is for themselves; what we need now is a shock of solidarity, “he said.

For Pelletier, the popular demand for change could radicalize politics if it remained unanswered.

“The public is increasingly disillusioned, wary of police violence during the protests and convinced that Europe cannot help. At the moment, the stage is ripe for a victory for Marine Le Pen, ”he said.

Lessons learned

However, the uncertainty triggered by the pandemic makes this prospect unlikely for political consultant Philippe Moreau-Chevrolet.

“People will come out of a difficult situation and jump into the unknown. The Pen would be another fear they might want to spare, “he told RFI.

But that doesn’t mean the public will rally around Macron and his promise of a new social model.

“What we are seeing in the French population is a shift from collectivism to individualism, where people focus on local issues and their families,” says Moreau-Chevrolet.

In France as elsewhere, the pandemic has held up an unflattering mirror for a society where low-wage workers have borne an unfair burden and lock-out measures have been impossible to impose on people who have no home or cannot bear to stay in the dilapidated one.

What’s also new is that people have come to depend less on the president, says Moreau-Chevrolet – not least because of the state’s lack of preparation for storing masks.

“They lied about the safety of wearing masks, telling us they were not necessary, and then turned around. It would have been simple to say “we made a mistake, there are not enough masks”. “

No party mood

The challenges facing Macron, compounded by the growing popularity of his Prime Minister, combine to make the third anniversary of his coming to power Thursday bittersweet.

Emmanuel Dupuy of the Institute for Prospective and Security Studies believes that the French leader will take advantage of this period of crisis to increase the power of the central government.

“It would be a reckless decision and many mayors reject the idea,” he told RFI. “They want to have a say in how the foreclosure is gradually removed in their territories, not to be left behind.”

Asked about his prediction for French society after the foreclosure was over, Dupuy replied that home schooling and teleworking would likely become more widespread.

“Everyone, from unions to parents to students, has realized that the education system must provide better access to digital learning.”

The old way, he says, is no longer an option.

The love of Europe

“The fact that our Internet networks have been able to handle the heavy traffic of many connections at the same time, also shows that we should seek to achieve digital independence,” said Dupuy, welcoming the government’s decision to refuse an application from monitoring of coronaviruses by Google and Apple.

However, the future of the country like that of its president remains uncertain.

Moreau-Chevrolet says a victory for Macron in 2022 at the moment seems unlikely, in part because the public is still struggling to identify with him.

“He tried to play all the roles – from Jacques Chirac, Winston Churchill to Charles De Gaulle – except himself. “

Friday, as the world prepares to mark the commemorations of World War II, Moreau-Chevrolet predicts that the president will depart from his Churchillian position “we are at war” to take an optimistic tone according to which “we will move on to through ”.

“He could take advantage of May 8 to celebrate Europe, which he has always supported,” he said.

Macron announced Sunday that France would keep its borders to the Schenghen area open, defying calls for the ban.

“He is adamant that we will be going through this crisis as Europeans,” said Moreau-Chevrolet. “To have political weight, it must first make Europe popular in the eyes of the French. “

            

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