France re­thinks ro­mance with Macron

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

Em­manuel Macron’s hon­ey­moon didn’t last long. Less than three months after his elec­tion, France’s en­er­getic and im­age-con­scious pres­i­dent has seen his pop­u­lar­ity drop after an­nounc­ing bud­get cuts, launch­ing a di­vi­sive la­bor re­form and en­gag­ing in a dam­ag­ing dis­pute with the mil­i­tary. A se­ries of opin­ion polls last week showed the per­cent­age of French cit­i­zens who said they were sat­is­fied with Macron’s poli­cies and trusted their young leader to deal with the coun­try’s prob­lems plung­ing.

The re­ver­sal might not af­fect the vis­i­ble in­ter­na­tional pro­file he has cut since tak­ing of­fice, but it could hurt Macron’s abil­ity to se­cure his am­bi­tious do­mes­tic agenda. France’s Ifop polling agency put it bluntly: “Apart from Jac­ques Chirac in July 1995, a newly elected pres­i­dent has never seen his pop­u­lar­ity rate fall­ing as quickly dur­ing the sum­mer after the elec­tion.”

His de­clin­ing ap­proval is strik­ing given that Macron was be­ing cred­ited two months ago with giv­ing France a boost of muchneeded con­fi­dence after years of se­cu­rity fears and eco­nomic stag­na­tion. In­creas­ingly, he in­stead is por­trayed as power-hun­gry and in­ex­pe­ri­enced. The French me­dia have started call­ing Macron “Jupiter”, a ref­er­ence to the mytho­log­i­cal king of the Ro­man gods and what is per­ceived as the pres­i­dent’s su­pe­rior at­ti­tude after he up­ended France’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape and shot from rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity to the na­tion’s top post at age 39.

While strug­gling at home, Macron has suc­ceeded in rais­ing France’s diplo­matic pro­file, host­ing meet­ings with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Libyan peace talks in Paris. Jean-Daniel Levy, di­rec­tor of the Pol­icy and Opin­ion Depart­ment at the Har­ris In­ter­ac­tive polling in­sti­tute, con­nects the pres­i­dent’s pop­u­lar­ity slide to the gov­ern­ment’s plans to re­duce hous­ing aid for stu­dents and to ini­ti­ate tax re­form. The re­form aims to help lower-in­come em­ploy­ees, but could weigh on re­tirees.


Macron’s im­age also has taken a hit dur­ing his stand­off with the French mil­i­tary chief over bud­get cuts. Gen. Pierre De Vil­liers re­signed and was quickly re­placed, but some saw last month’s pub­lic dis­pute as ev­i­dence of the pres­i­dent’s au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies. Macron has promised to boost de­fense spend­ing to 2 per­cent of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct by 2025 as part of France’s com­mit­ments to NATO, but the gov­ern­ment an­nounced a re­duc­tion of 870 mil­lion euros in mil­i­tary spend­ing for this year.

The gov­ern­ment also launched the la­bor re­forms that were cen­tral to Macron’s cam­paign prom­ise to boost France’s lag­ging econ­omy through pro-free mar­ket poli­cies. Changes would in­clude cap­ping the po­ten­tial fi­nan­cial penal­ties for com­pa­nies sued for fir­ing em­ploy­ees and giv­ing busi­nesses greater lee­way to set work­place rules in­stead of re­ly­ing on col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ments. La­bor unions and France’s far-left par­ties are fight­ing the re­forms, say­ing they would weaken hard-won worker pro­tec­tions. Crit­ics also re­sent the way Macron is try­ing to speed their ap­proval. The gov­ern­ment is in­vok­ing a spe­cial pro­ce­dure to avoid a lengthy de­bate in par­lia­ment.

Daniel Fasquelle, a law­maker from the con­ser­va­tive The Repub­li­cans party de­nounced Macron for what he called the “will to weaken all op­po­si­tion” and for re­fus­ing to give in­ter­views. Ex­cept for care­fully chore­ographed photo op­por­tu­ni­ties, the pres­i­dent has dis­tanced him­self from the me­dia. He can­celed the tra­di­tional Bastille Day tele­vi­sion in­ter­view. “These are ex­cesses the French judge more harshly and they are right,” Fasquelle said on France’s Info ra­dio. “It sim­ply means the pres­i­dent is not up to the task... He’s pay­ing for his own lack of ex­pe­ri­ence. Maybe he got too quickly, too soon, high re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that are over­whelm­ing him.”

Gov­ern­ment spokesman Christophe Cas­taner ac­knowl­edged that Macron has been stand­off­ish with the press, but of­fered an al­ter­na­tive ex­pla­na­tion. “No one can blame him (Macron) for rarely speak­ing,” Cas­taner told re­porters. “I un­der­stand it can ir­ri­tate a bit. I un­der­stand it can be ques­tioned. But I think you and me should get used to it be­cause the pres­i­dent has de­cided not to be a com­men­ta­tor (of the news), but an ac­tor.” Macron is ex­pected to re­turn from his Au­gust va­ca­tion to a tough Septem­ber, with unions and far-left par­ties call­ing for street protests against his pro­posed la­bor re­forms.

In this May 14, 2017 file photo, new French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron waves to the crowds as he is trans­ported up the Champs-El­y­sees Av­enue after his in­au­gu­ra­tion cer­e­mony in Paris. — AP

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