Emmanuel Macron Is Using the Far Right to Bolster His Power

Marc Endeweld

Since his first presidential campaign in 2017, Emmanuel Macron has presented himself as the only barrier to chaos. But this snap election has shown how much Macron has helped build up the far-right threat in order to entrench his own power.

French president Emmanuel Macron, at the Élysée Palace in Paris, France, on Monday, June 24, 2024. (Nathan Laine / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Interview by
Marlon Ettinger

Investigative journalist Marc Endeweld is one of the most informed observers of French president Emmanuel Macron. In a series of works, he has examined the political intrigue that fueled Macron’s dizzying rise to the summit of the state — before he dragged his country into the depths where Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National is today at the gates of power.

The first of these books, L’ambigu monsieur Macron (2015), was written when the future president was still economy minister in François Hollande’s Parti Socialiste–led government. Macron’s notorious statement, when he occupied that role, that he wasn’t a socialist marked the public beginning of his so-called outsider campaign for the 2017 presidential election. In fact, he wasn’t really such an upstart candidate. Boosted behind the scenes by right-wing networks surrounding former president Nicolas Sarkozy — and with more than a leg up from his politically influential wife Brigitte — Macron won only after the murky political elimination of his main conservative rival, former prime minister François Fillon, who was revealed to have embezzled public funds by fictitiously employing his wife as a parliamentary assistant.

Macron, says Endeweld, has one overriding drive: a thirst for power. And he’s methodically pursued that ambition with another aim in mind: the eradication of the Left. He spoke to Jacobin’s Marlon Ettinger about the president’s apparently baffling move to call snap elections despite poor poll scores, his remaking of the French political system, and the networks of power behind his rule.

Marlon Ettinger

Why did Macron call snap elections? Have you heard anything that might explain such a move?

Marc Endeweld

The idea has been on the table since 2022. Already in that election he had his first defeat, because he didn’t win a majority in parliament. Nobody did, so he’s governed for two years through Article 49.3, a [constitutional] mechanism that allows the government to force legislation through parliament. These past two years we’ve been in a pending political crisis where Macron’s political legitimacy is extremely weak, institutionally speaking. So the idea was there for a while, but nobody expected Macron to make the decision right after the European election, especially given the Rassemblement National’s extremely high score.

So why did he do this? For two possible reasons. Macron has always tried to assert his authority by playing with a strategy of chaos. He’s always tried to bolster this power by making the far right the only possible alternative to his line. By doing so, he killed the traditional debate between institutional left and right with his rhetoric of “me or chaos,” or “me or the extremes,” all while also criminalizing the Left. So his decision — which he made mainly on his own, almost behind the back of the prime minister and most of his MPs — can also be situated within this strategy of chaos. 

Macron has, for the most part, framed the Rassemblement National as the only alternative political force to himself, and this strategy has directly or indirectly propelled it into French political life like never before. It’s Macron who put this party on a pedestal — he is primarily responsible for this.

And he’s doing this because, in reality, he’s guided by a logic of political chaos and the deconstruction of French political life. Macron isn’t a “centrist.” He has always had an authoritarian and antidemocratic inclination. His intention is to have a neo-Bonapartist democracy, not at all a centrist strategy of coalitions in the context of parliamentary life.

Marlon Ettinger

It seems to me that the Rassemblement National is at the gates of power. Are Macron, and the people around him, worried about this, and if not, why? Why isn’t he worried about using this strategy if it may be propelling the far right to power?

Marc Endeweld

We should distinguish two things. On one side, there are Macron’s political supporters. They are in complete panic. These people, who think that Macron is a centrist, don’t understand his decision to dissolve parliament, because they know very well that he’s going to lose. They fear the arrival of the Rassemblement National.

Afterward, the question behind this is: Does Macron ultimately want the Rassemblement National to win the election? We can’t totally rule out this idea. He’s continually positioned this party as the sole alternative opposition while completely excluding the Left from the political sphere. His entire strategy since 2017 has been to transform the Left into an “extreme,” outside the bounds of the French Republic, and he has completely sidelined it from French political life.

To really grasp Macron, you need to understand something which hasn’t entirely been taken into account even by his traditional opponents. Many people in the Socialist Party but also on the Right and in Macron’s ranks — and even in La France Insoumise — have underestimated Macron’s appetite for power. It’s important to understand this because, effectively, he has only one obsession, which is to preserve his power as much as possible and to stay at the center of the game as much as possible, even though, constitutionally, he can’t serve more than two successive five-year terms.

But as I discovered, he’s been thinking about returning to politics after 2032 [i.e., after sitting out one term]. It’s important to keep this in mind, because by calling this election — and I’m not saying his strategy will work — he can achieve one of his goals which will rationally follow from it, which is to kill off his opponents, including his potential successors [on his own political side] such as Édouard Philippe, Gabriel Attal, and Bruno Le Maire. So by taking the decision to dissolve the Assembly, he’s killed off a section of his entourage politically.

In any case, that’s what he hoped. The only thing which he didn’t anticipate, clearly, was the alliance of the Left, which potentially throws a wrench into the Rassemblement National’s rise to power.

Marlon Ettinger

Since the beginning of the campaign, we’ve seen the Left — especially Jean-Luc Mélenchon and La France Insoumise — being targeted by the media. Has Macron played a role in the French media turning to the right? I’m thinking particularly of his advisor Bruno Roger-Petit. I read an article in Libération which said that Roger-Petit was trying to cultivate links between Macron and far-right media tycoon Vincent Bolloré. Does Macron have links to people like Bolloré?

Marc Endeweld

For a long time, Macron’s attempts to exclude the historical left from the French political arena have included an indulgence of — even collusion with — the ideas and framings of the far right. Since 2017, there’s always been more criticism aimed at the Left than at the far right. That’s something that’s not often noted in so-called progressive circles in the United States. It’s taken them a long time to understand that Macron isn’t a liberal in the sense of the US Democrats. In reality, Macron practices a form of politics that more resembles Donald Trump, especially in its relationship with the truth, and also its indulgence in and institutionalization of the ideas of the far right. Because of this — aside from conflicts between Bolloré’s business interests in Africa and the president’s office during his first term — collusion between the Bolloré group and Macron’s circle was ongoing. This was true even when Macron was economy minister in Hollande’s government, long before his own rise to power from 2016 to 2017. After 2022, this collusion became absolute.

Bolloré pursued this collusion because he hoped to profit from Macron’s strategy to move French political life toward the far right.

As an early Macronist who later broke with the president’s circle told me, Macron has been guided for a long time by the strategy of the “Union of the Two Rights.” This strategy was proposed by Nicolas Sarkozy at the end of his term, between 2010 and 2012 — a president who also created a Ministry of [Integration, National Identity, and Codevelopment]. This strategy came from [Sarkozy’s advisor] Patrick Buisson, and the strategy is to break the dam between the Republican right and the far right. It’s within this political context that Emmanuel Macron instrumentalized not just Bolloré’s media and strategy but other media as well to push France’s political life, and public opinion, to the far right.

There are important figures in Macron’s entourage who have tried to grease the wheels, so to speak, to encourage closer ties which already exist organically between Macron and Bolloré. These efforts have, to a certain degree, influenced the programming on Bolloré’s TV channel CNEWS, in particular on Pascal Praud’s show. Among these figures is Roger-Petit, a former journalist. He’s officially Macron’s adviser on historical issues, but in reality his focus is offering off-the-record accounts to political journalists, mainly those within the Bolloré-sphere like at [Sunday newspaper] JDD.

Roger-Petit presents himself as a fan of the [François] Mitterrand era, but in reality he’s greatly influenced by the culture of the Right and the far right — he speaks the same language as them. But it’s not that Roger-Petit made Macron turn to the right, as if he were a devious advisor in the president’s circle who corrupted him — as if he were Patrick Buisson to Macron’s Nicolas Sarkozy. No: Roger-Petit aligned himself with Macron because he understood that Macron has this strategy of turning the country to the far right. And as Roger-Petit has said himself, culturally, Macron has a conservative ethos, not a left-wing one. Roger-Petit, then, has stayed at the center of Macron’s circle in the Élysée by providing extensive advice in line with Macron’s strategy of chaos and desire to push the public debate to the far right.

The reason for all this is to criminalize the Left, and to sideline the question of social rights from French political debate. It’s here that we find the terrifying alliance between the neoliberalism implemented in France and the most reactionary, far-right forces that we see in many Western European countries and the United States today.

Indeed, Roger-Petit isn’t the only person who’s contributed to Macron’s relationship with Bolloré. There’s also Macron’s communications adviser from 2022–23. Not very well known in Paris, he’s better known in English-speaking media. His name is Frédéric Michel, and he was a former adviser to Tony Blair [and] a Frenchman who became British in 2018. Frédéric Michel worked for Rupert Murdoch’s companies for almost twenty years, and while working for the Élysée still worked for Murdoch, among others.

And so, knowing the level of media manipulation that Murdoch’s companies exercise over British democracy, as well as American democracy, serious doubts can be raised about the reality of Macronist power, particularly after 2022, and particularly in its relationship with far-right media and large industrial conglomerates who are legitimizing such discourse.

This is just another example of how Macron and Trump can, in a factual sense, be compared. Frédéric Michel is just one symptom of this way of doing politics: that is to say, by fake news, by the manipulation of public opinion, by a politics which connects directly with public opinion through social media; that is to say, through Twitter accounts, or trolls so to speak, and not through traditional media or journalists who are scrupulous about the facts.

Throughout his career, Macron has always prioritized his image before anything else. He’s always said that it’s important to saturate people’s minds with his image, not the details of his words, in order to succeed politically — whatever the consequences might be. Contrary to his image in certain international circles, Macron was never a progressive, or even in the liberal, in the left-wing sense of the term.


Marlon Ettinger

You’ve explained in depth, in L’ambigu monsieur Macron and in Le Grand Manipulateur, the role of Brigitte Macron and the networks around Nicolas Sarkozy in electing Macron. What is that, and what particular role does his wife have in his presidency?

Marc Endeweld

I’ve talked for a long time about how Macron used all the networks of the Fifth Republic, even the most shadowy and obscure, in particular those close to Françafrique and the private intelligence services, which we colloquially call barbouzes. Macron was initiated into this universe in part by Michel Charasse, a close adviser to François Mitterrand. Charasse was Mitterrand’s budget minister, but also a key figure in his power structure. He was also very close to Charles Pasqua, the conservative interior minister [under Jacques Chirac] who himself had links to the networks in Françafrique.

Macron has always exercised power in this way — something miles away from his speeches on ethics, morality, or the fight against corruption. This resulted in the Benalla affair, a mix of [events] at the highest levels of the state [which raised questions] . . . from many actors in the intelligence services about interference in their authority.

As for the private intelligence networks in Françafrique, there are also numerous connections and possible collusion with the most extreme far-right forces in France.

It’s in this context that Sarkozy’s hard-right networks collaborated completely with Macron and supported him. Sarkozy also had a personal interest in protecting himself, as he was under pressure from multiple legal proceedings, like Trump.

You also mentioned Brigitte Macron. In the complex power structure of the Élysée, she is the most important gateway to all these networks [because of her and her family’s connections to Sarkozy’s networks]. Before the victory in 2017, she was the gateway for the networks of the hard right, in particular those that came from Sarkozy. That’s how, for example, we saw the arrival of [Minister of Culture] Rachida Dati in the previous government. [Interior Minister] Gérald Darmanin and [Minister of Justice] Éric Dupond-Moretti also come to mind. Dupond-Moretti, to be sure, wasn’t a pro-Sarkozy activist, but he was a lawyer close to Sarkozy’s circle.

So, she was one of the vectors of this convergence . . . in his strategy to come to power.

I would also add that the influence which Brigitte Macron has in the Élysée is yet another sign of the totally dysfunctional character of power over the past seven years. In addition to benefiting from . . . the immense powers [the constitution the Fifth Republic gives to] the president, which are unique in France compared to any comparable democracy, [and are] . . . overwhelming and exorbitant, President Macron has suppressed all the traditional institutional checks and balances. He’s shown contempt for parliament. He’s instrumentalized and shown contempt for the justice system. All these elements have resulted in a completely dysfunctional way of exercising power at the heart of the Élysée, where nobody but Emmanuel Macron, his wife, Brigitte, and his main collaborator and chief of staff, Alexis Kohler, have been in power for the past seven years, without any democratic control.

This, too, is a key explanation for what’s been presented in recent days as an act of madness by Macron, in making this decision. As I said before, Macron makes all his decisions on his own, with his small circle in the Élysée. If there is really madness, then it’s in this dysfunctional aspect of France’s institutions these past seven years.