Macron’s party with a new leader

22.11.2017 – Grażyna Śleszyńska

La République En Marche (LREM), a formation that triggered a genuine tsunami on the French political stage, has been through a period of interregnum. The presidency ad interim was initially conferred to a widely renowned social activist Catherine Barbaroux, before being shifted to a 3-person collegial body. This provisional leadership regime has come to an end as the party’s delegate general, the official title of its leader, was appointed following an election on November 18.

Christophe Castaner has followed a career pattern typical of a party activist. Back in 1997-2002 he served as the head of cabinet for Catherine Trautmann and Michel Sapin, both ministers in the socialist government of Lionel Jospin. In 2001 he came back to his native Provence to became the mayor of the 5-thousand village of Forcalquier, and since 2004, the vice-president of the Regional Council of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, a position he held for 8 years. In 2012 he won a seat in the National Assembly. In 2017, he decided to leave the Socialist Party and endorsed Emmanuel Macron as his campaign spokesman, and then as spokesman for the government of Edouard Philippe and state secretary for the relations with the parliament.

After Emmanuel Macron had moved into the Elysée Palace, La République En Marche was facing a leadership vacuum. Christophe Castaner, Macron’s close associate, for whom he abandoned his career in the Socialist Party, was a natural fill-in. Now he needs to stand up to the mission of mental embracing and energising this leadership.

Democratic atmosphere

In his speech on November 18, Mr Castaner reminded that what’s unique about LREM is an atmosphere in which everyone is respected and everyone has their say. This inherently democratic, grassroots nature was the party’s cornerstone, which, should you look for analogies, resembles the philosophy of Poland’s Kukiz’15. Over the past weeks, however, this smooth image has cracked after local activists began to criticise the leadership in Paris over their bossiness.

A different way of doing politics

“A different way of doing politics” remains the guiding theme of LREM’s philosophy. The party bets on civic mobilisation, with 6 departments (France’s territorial units of the 2nd degree) now testing special instruments of civic participation. Whether it is public road cleaning, IT training for the elderly or employment assistance, LREM deliberately shapes its image as a profoundly civic party, committed to solving the problems of everyday life, close to people.

LREM suffers from a sort of “baby blues”, as one MP put it, and thus is much in need of new impulses to help make it a political party in its own right. For it was initially meant as an electoral committee, a structure created to cater for the needs of an election campaign, which, when once its goals reached, got out of breath. And the merciless truth is that beings die for lack of fresh ideas. Will Mr Castaner, who has been labeled as “kéké”, or someone who likes showing off, be able to provide inspiration that will redefine the party’s development prospects with a comprehensive agenda?