Where do you stand on the Paris consensus? Or should I say: how far along on the path to agreement are you? After all, as its chief architect Emmanuel Macron explained at its unveiling on 16 November 2020, ‘it will be the consensus of everywhere’.
Or is ‘Paris consensus’ not ringing any bells? That’s not surprising; despite being the French president’s blueprint for a new world order, it barely made a ripple in the press. The choice of media partner was unusual. The Paris consensus was first outlined in an interview with three students from the École Normale Supérieure – a Parisian grande école (specialist university). A video of the interview can be found on the website of Le Grand Continent, the school’s geopolitical vanity journal, together with a transcript in six languages. Le Grand Continent was understandably keen to push the boat out for the student-journalist scoop of the century, which landed in their lap during last year’s Paris Peace Forum, an annual event for the global political and business elite in the same vein as the World Economic Forum at Davos.
Despite the abundance of world leaders at hand there were no other parties to the Paris consensus. It is a consensus of one – of Macron alone. In the video, which we can tell from the transcript has been heavily edited down to a 33-minute runtime, Macron embarks on a series of free-ranging didactic monologues that his interviewers are too scared to cut in on.
Whenever there is a presidential majority in the National Assembly, as there is now, the French president’s job becomes possibly the loneliest, most autocratic constitutional position in any western democracy. Accordingly, Macron has the speech of a man who hasn’t tasted interruption or contradiction in a long time. Seated in his office at the Elysée Palace against a dazzling backdrop of gold leaf and mirror glass, expounding his view of the world often barely coherently, Macron’s style is oddly redolent of Donald Trump’s. It’s a different kind of incoherence – much more erudite – but there’s definitely a resemblance.
What is the Paris consensus? In Macron’s jumbled prolix, it means moving beyond the pivotal dates that have formed our politics [1945, 1968, 1989] to question the fixing agent of the so-called Washington consensus, and thus the fact that our societies were also built on the paradigm of open-market economies – of social open-market economies as they were known in post-war Europe – which have become increasingly less socially oriented, more and more open, and which after this [Washington] consensus, became dogmatic and held their truths to be: the shrinking of the State, privatisation, structural reform, opening up of economies through trade, financialisation, with a fairly monolithic logic based on building up profit.