In the medium-term, the development of the French economy and the evolution of its domestic and foreign policies largely depend on the results of the large-scale reform programme launched by the country's current President Emmanuel Macron.
The programme entails a break with the socioeconomic model that emerged in France after World War II, which was characterized by the active role of state in the redistribution of financial flows (54 per cent of the country's GDP goes through the treasury), strict administrative market regulation and labour relations and a very advanced, but loss-making redistributive social security system. 
In the first post-war decades, this neo-Keynesian model worked, although today most members of the French business community, Le patronat
, believe it goes against the grain of the 21st
century globalized world. This was evidenced by low growth rates (1.7 per cent in 2018), chronic deficit of the budget (EUR 81.3 billion, 2.8% of GDP) and the balance of trade, swelling sovereign debt (98.6 per cent of the GDP), capital and production flight due to high taxes and mass unemployment (9.1 per cent of the labour pool). 
In the 18 months that Macron has been in power, the Édouard Philippe government appointed by him has submitted 77 major bills to Parliament which have radically changed the labour code and the system of elementary, secondary and higher education, tightened the rules for granting asylum to immigrants and stiffened measures intended to fight corruption and terrorism. Waiting their turn are drastic reforms of civil service and pension programs, vocational education and unemployment insurance systems.
All these radical changes were made possible by a combination of two factors: further strengthening of the top-down governance in the Fifth Republic with the President on top, and changes to its erstwhile system of political parties.
Public officials, representatives of the business community and the technocratic elite have solidified their standing in the highest levels of power, and the head of state (a former finance inspector, investment banker and minister of the economy) and Philippe's cabinet are prime examples of that. The planned revision of the current 1958 Constitution further bolsters the role of the executive branch at the expense of the legislative branch, which was laid down in the regime of the Fifth Republic 60 ago by its founder General Charles de Gaulle. This entails cutting the number of deputies and senators by one third and restricting the scope of their law-making functions.
The presidential and parliamentary elections of 2017 brought a crushing defeat to the mainstream parties of moderates, right-wing republicans and left-wing socialists that had alternated in ruling the country over the last few decades, and a question mark was put over their very existence. Thus, three generations of traditional political elites discredited by economic stagnation and corruption scandals were swept off the political stage.
As a result, the previous bipolar party system was replaced with the absolute hegemony of the new centre party ("both left- and right-wing"), the Republic on the Move! (La République En Marche! or just En Marche!) founded by Macron during his electoral campaign of 2016–2017. The party gained an absolute majority of 313 seats in the lower house of parliament (the National Assembly) and, together with members of the centrist Democratic Movement party (MoDem) and defectors from the opposition on the right and the left, had 350–360 out of the 577 seats. With no political experience and no solid local standing, they obediently support the government and the president to whom they owe their election.
At first glance, it may seem that Macron's standing and the continuation of the reforms he launched will not be in any danger until the next presidential and parliamentary elections in 2022. According to surveys, opposition from the extreme wings of the political spectrum (Jean-Luc Mélenchon's La France Insoumise, or "Untamed France" and Marine Le Pen's extreme right-wing National Rally, formerly National Front) has the support of 10–11% and 25–30% of the population, respectively, but they are deeply split, which makes it virtually impossible for them to form a tactical coalition similar to the Italian one. At the same time, the remains of the former mainstream parties (the Republicans and, particularly, the Socialists) have not yet recovered from their defeat and are essentially out of the game.
Nonetheless, the stability of the current political system should not be exaggerated. The President's hopes for the improvement of the situation on the global market have not yet come true, and the results of the domestic reforms are late coming. The principal macroeconomic indicators (growth rates, deficits, sovereign debt and unemployment) have not yet exhibited noticeable improvements.
At the same time, the distribution of profits from the reforms and their costs is far from equal. The revision of fiscal policies (abolishing the tax on wealth, reducing profit tax by EUR 20 billion, etc.) and the labour code, which significantly curtailed the rights of trade unions, brought the greatest profits to entrepreneurs, top- and mid-level managers, self-employed professionals and big city intellectuals who fit in perfectly with globalization processes and European integration. This privileged category (the upper middle class), the core voters of En Marche! (24 per cent in the first round of the 2017 presidential elections), offers the greatest understanding and support to the president's postmodern, liberal and globalist discourse.
At the same time, given the low economic growth rate, the inevitable costs of breaking away from the former model are borne by the many socially vulnerable groups: retirees, workers, farmers, low-ranking civil servants and students, particularly those in small towns and the economically depressed rural regions of Northeast and Southeast France and the Massif Central, which are experiencing deep structural breakdowns of the traditional and soon-to-be obsolete industrial and agricultural sectors.
Until recently, the attempts of the dissatisfied groups to protest through the traditional French "direct action" (strikes and massive street rallies) failed to receive widespread support because of mass unemployment and the split of the trade union movement into radicals and reformists. The situation is changing, however: on November 17, 2018, a total of 382,000 activists wearing yellow vests and protesting against the rising prices of gas and diesel blocked the streets and roads of France. This spontaneous movement was not organized by a particular party or trade union and continued on the following days. Students, lyceum students, ambulance drivers, nurses and other healthcare professionals joined them. The authorities' claims that these measures were necessitated by environmental concerns had no effect.
Every Saturday since, the "yellow vests" movement became more and more widespread, transforming into a national socio-political crisis. Right-wing and left-wing extremists infiltrated the protesters' ranks, as did criminals from underprivileged suburbs, destroying urban infrastructure facilities, building barricades, burning cars and robbing shops and restaurants. The law enforcement agencies (the police and the gendarmerie) lost control over the situation. The numbers of detainees and wounded on both sides exceeded several hundred people. The government's attempt to establish a dialogue with the protesters failed to produce convincing results. On December 10, President Macron made a televised address to the nation promising to adjust the means for achieving his goals of modernizing the country so that its social problems would be taken into account.
This crisis was not incidental. The political stability of the "neo-Bonapartist" top-down governance is gnawed away by the marginalization of intermediary links between state and society. Municipal and regional departmental councils and mayors of 36,000 of small and large communes do not want to put up with emasculation of their powers and the cutting of funds by the centralized administrative bureaucracy. The upper house of parliament, the Senate, where En Marche! is a minority, gives voice to their dissatisfaction. 
The same applies to hundreds of thousands of non-partisan civic society organizations (professional, cultural, religious, environmental, human rights, etc.). Although the authorities try to absolve themselves of responsibility by setting up a dialogue between social partners, particularly between entrepreneurs and trade unions, the government still has the last word, relying on the "obedient" majority of the National Assembly members.
The dissatisfaction of the masses is reflected in Macron's steadily falling approval ratings: according to a poll taken immediately after his election in 2017, a total of 63 per cent of respondents supported him, while in October 2018, that number was only 29 per cent. This is noticeably below the approval ratings of both of his predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande,
in similar periods of their first terms. Neither Sarkozy nor Hollande won re-election for a second five-year term.
Macron's excessively arrogant and overbearing manner has earned him the unflattering nickname of the "President of the Rich," which has done significant damage to his image. He is forced to acknowledge that he failed to overcome the mistrust citizens have for the powers that be.
Following the pointed resignation two key ministers, Minister for the Ecological and Solidary Transition, Nicolas Hulot, and Minister of the Interior, Gérard Collomb, the President had to forcibly re-organize Philippe's cabinet, and that reshuffling was another symptom of the narrowing popular support for the regime and the conflicts in the upper echelons of power. 
Collomb held a special place in Macron's circle: he was the first leader of the then ruling Socialist Party to offer active support to the then unknown candidate during the 2017 presidential campaign, thus contributing to his victory. The immediate reason for his resignation was the high-profile scandal surrounding the illegal actions of Alexandre Benalla, the President's personal bodyguard, which forced the minister to make excuses to the parliamentary investigative commission.
The resignation of both deputy prime ministers reflects a crisis in the President's relations with local authorities and NGOs: Collomb was Mayor of Lyon and decided to go back to his native city, while Hulot was a sort of an icon for environmentalists.
The reshuffling of the cabinet was minimal: the majority of ministers (including the Prime Minister) kept their offices, while six were moved to different posts and eight were first-time appointees. Addressing the nation, the President said he would not revise the political course. At the same time, he was forced to promise to pay more heed to the local authorities, to "soften" the "Jacobin" centralization of power in favour of the provinces and draft, among other things, amendments to the Constitution that would include expanding the powers of the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (ESEC), which represents chief civic society organizations.
However, the ability to carry out these promises depends on the results they should bring: specific economic shifts, primarily the growth of the population's purchasing power and increasing employment. Macron's presidential term and the powers of the deputies forming his parliamentary majority expire in May–June 2022, and if appreciable economic changes for the better have not taken place by that time, a question mark will emerge over the prospects of their re-election for the next five years. 
A specific feature of Macron's strategy and style is his ardent desire to fit his reform programme into a broad international context in order to justify, in the public mind, the need for difficult and sometimes painful reforms by citing the harsh demands of the outside world. At the same time, he insists on the universal dimension of democracy and human rights, the values of the French Revolution of 1789. The active part France plays in protecting these values is presented as a foundation for its role as one of a handful of countries with global interests and responsibilities, particularly in the face of the current global challenges (climate, migration, etc.).
During his first year in office alone, Macron made 46 foreign visits to 29 countries, not counting participation in international conferences. Comparable numbers of foreign guests visited Paris. The crown jewel of his activities was the celebration of the centennial of the World War I Armistice and the Paris Peace Forum, which was attended by heads of state and government from approximately 60 countries, including Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.
Such frenetic activities produced mixed results. The social crisis of November–December 2018 had a serious effect on President Macron's international image, making the achievements of his stated goals more difficult.
Macron proclaims a significant revamping of the European Union as his principal international objective. This entails boosting its core – the Eurozone concentrated around the France–Germany tandem; establishing a special parliamentary assembly; adopting a major common budget for investment into technologies of the future; unifying budgetary, taxation and social policies controlled by a single finance minister; and, finally, bolstering the EU's defence identity considerating Brexit and the evolution of the transatlantic partnership with the United States.
Nonetheless, the implementation of this programme has not thus far moved beyond the negotiating stage. Given the serious domestic political difficulties currently facing Macron's chief partner, Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, Berlin is in no rush to spend money on cushioning the financial difficulties of Mediterranean debtor countries, which to some extent applies to France, too – whatever the makeup of the new ruling coalition may be.
In the meantime, the states of the Visegrad Group, primarily Hungary and Poland, are staunchly opposed to solving the problem of refugees and migrants jointly with the EU member states. The coming to power of national populist Eurosceptics in these countries, as well as in Austria and Italy and the growth of their influence in Germany, is seriously hurting the chances of Macron's party at the European parliamentary elections in May 2019.
France's standing in its traditional sphere of interests – the Greater East, the Mediterranean and Africa – also looks contradictory. Despite the relative success of its military operation against Islamists in Mali, France fails to play an independent role in looking for a way out of the protracted civil wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
As for Syria, Macron perseveres in his attempts to find a compromise between the Astana Group (Russia, Iran and Turkey) and the so-called "smaller group" (the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Saudi Arabia, etc.) in looking for a political solution through a constitutional compromise in Geneva under the auspices of the UN. However, his chances for success are confined to Paris acting as merely a member of the U.S.–Saudi coalition. In the meantime, unilateral alignment with Riyadh sealed by exchanging oil for arms significantly limits the room for manoeuvre for French diplomacy in the deeply split Muslim world (conflicts between Sunni and Shia Muslims, between Israel and Palestine), particularly regarding relations with Iran. This became especially apparent following the scandal surrounding the murder of the opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi secret service agents.
Finally, Macron's claim to represent the common interests of the EU in a dialogue with the leading powers of the multipolar world (the United States, Russia and China) and, moreover, to act as a sort of an intermediary between them, has produced mixed results. Despite his personal contact with Donald Trump, the President of France failed to obtain from Washington an acceptable compromise on any of the issues discussed (the withdrawal of the United States from the climate accord, the Iran dossier, trade protectionism, etc.). Conclusions
The social crisis of late 2018 will undoubtedly have an impact on France's chances of advancing its initiatives on the international stage. Nonetheless, in the near future (2019), some positive shifts in France's search for compromise solutions may occur. Against the background of Brexit, the political crisis in Germany, and unclear prospects of the Trump Administration following the elections of November 6, 2018, Macron theoretically could step up his initiatives.
Before 2024, the Russia–France dialogue will be tested and challenged, primarily in connection with the European parliamentary elections (May 2019), as Paris accuses Russia of supporting Eurosceptics. Accusing Russia of cyber-meddling in European elections, Macron attempted to undermine the chances of his Eurosceptic opponents in Eastern Europe, Italy, Austria and, most importantly, in France itself. In the meantime, the chances of finding a compromise with Paris on the Ukrainian issue and sanctions policies are minimized by Berlin, which always plays the first fiddle in the "Normandy format." Paris's apprehensive stance in the face of Russia's increased activity in Africa (Egypt, Libya and the Central African Republic) could become yet another irritant.
Nonetheless, there is potential for Russia and France to develop their relations, regardless of whether Macron is re-elected for another five-year term in 2022 and regardless of the inevitable fluctuations and oscillations both in bilateral relations and in relations with other countries.