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Macron: doomed to fail? | The World Weekly

One hundred days into his presidency, Emmanuel Macron’s report card is already looking dire. The French president’s popularity has plummeted dramatically as his sweeping reforms make him more enemies with each new announcement, leaving question marks over his future. New polling figures from Ifop show his approval rating has dropped by 18% since late July, the fastest drop of any French president. “The summer break is over, and so is the honeymoon,” reckoned Jérôme Fourquet, director of the polling firm.

Pundits, however, have been declaring the end of Mr. Macron’s honeymoon for months. Some declared it in May, after a string of EU leaders lined up to rebuff the freshly elected French president’s ambitions for eurozone reform. 

Some did so in July, when his plans for budget cuts antagonised both the left and right of French politics. Cancelled higher education funding worth €331 million ($388 million) drew the ire of France’s powerful teachers’ unions, and the military broke its habit of silence on politics when a top general lashed out at Mr. Macron‘s proposed €850m cuts in army spending. Local authorities, meanwhile, fumed at a surprise €3bn extra in the €13bn of savings they were told they have to make over the next five years. 

The latest slump in the polls, however, is caused by another set of influential new enemies, according to Luc Rouban, a senior researcher at Science Po’s CEVIPOF think-tank in Paris: civil servants who have been told that their wages will remain frozen, pensioners anxious about proposed increases in social taxes, and young people who face lower housing benefits.

Unions like the General Union of National Education have been protesting against Mr. Macron's planned labour reforms

All these cuts are part of the €60bn of savings Mr. Macron wants to make by 2022 in order to bring France in line with EU rules of limiting the budget deficit to 3% of GDP, suggesting many more battles are yet to come.

That budget cuts could make a president so unpopular is no surprise, yet even Mr. Macron’s key selling points are coming back to haunt him. His strong performances on the world stage, establishing himself as an equal before the likes of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, no longer seem like a redeeming feature to the French public. “There is a certain irritation at seeing Emmanuel Macron devoting more time to international affairs than to domestic ones, despite continuing terrorist attacks and the public’s impatience for real progress on economic issues,” Mr. Rouban told The World Weekly. 

‘Chaos on all floors’

Meanwhile, the grassroots make-up of his En Marche! party, supposed to endear Mr. Macron to a country fed up of hand-in-glove politics, is doing the opposite. Four ministers resigned over sleaze allegations in June - including Justice Minister Francois Bayrou, who through his leadership of the Democratic Movement party helped Mr. Macron sweep up the centrist vote in this year’s elections. 

Since then, the large number of novice MPs in the party as a consequence of the president’s commitment to select 50% of candidates from outside of politics has been a lasting PR headache.

Take the case of Tiphaine Beaulieu, a teacher from eastern France who joined En Marche! earlier this year. Ms. Beaulieu is leading a campaign she calls the “Angry Marchers”, criticising the “giant swindle” of Mr. Macron’s party, accusing him of charming thousands of political debutants into joining a grassroots, ‘open-source’ movement that was not to be. Since his election, she says, they are not listened to, and party power is concentrated in a small cadre around the president. Among other things, she alleges that activists have been paid to participate in rallies. 

En Marche! has denied Ms. Bealieu’s claims, putting her gripes down to bitterness over her failure to win office as a party candidate. Her allegations remain unproven, and she has refused to disclose to the press any details of the claims she has threatened to take to court. Yet she continues to be given wide coverage and interviews on French television and radio - something which could drag the president down even further in the public eye.

Meanwhile, the established parties are gleefully taking to the press with tales of amateurism and mishaps in government and Parliament. 

“It’s chaos on all floors. It could almost still be us in power,” an associate of François Hollande recently told Le Monde, evoking the pandemonium under the last president. Emmanuel Macron is currently more unpopular than Mr. Hollande was at the same stage of his term, who later turned out to be France’s most unpopular president in living memory. Can Mr. Macron save his legacy?

Recent history suggests not, as Jacques Gerstlé, professor of political science at Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris, points out. Nicolas Sarkozy lasted just six months before his popularity started to decline in 2007, as did Francois Hollande in 2012. Although they had failed to fulfill certain election promises, Professor Gerstlé told The World Weekly, the common denominator when it came to their popularity was a ferocious and premature “media bashing” that both presidents never quite recovered from. 

Dramatic changes in fortune are not unheard in French politics, though: Nicolas Sarkozy enjoyed far more support than his successor did over his first summer, yet his legacy was in tatters by the end of his term.

Doomed from the start?

The big bet of Mr. Macron’s legacy is that unpopular measures now will be vindicated in the future. Mr. Gerstlé warns against writing off the president’s chances, owing to the strong parliamentary majority under his command. 

However, the biggest challenge is yet to come. Mr. Macron’s proposed reforms to France’s labyrinthine labour laws have proven to be one of his biggest sticking points, reviled by trade unions and indeed much of the public. Media coverage has yet to reach its peak, when the country’s summer political recess ends and the plans get debated in Parliament.

Mr. Rouban is less optimistic, suggesting that the president’s woes can be traced back to contradictions at the very heart of his presidency. “Emmanuel Macron was largely elected by default owing to François Fillon, who was a sure winner, being caught up by ‘Penelopegate’,” he told The World Weekly. The idea that Mr. Macron represents a consensus between right and left is a sham, he argues, with “no grounding in society.” 

“Social-liberals in France, those who are economically liberal as well as culturally (hipsters à la française) make up just 6% of the French electorate. Voters rallied under Emmanuel Macron above all in order to avoid Marine Le Pen; it did not at all mean that the president has an ideological base in public opinion.” 

France’s socialists are marching against the labour reforms at the same time as its conservatives are up in arms over the military cuts - all proof, for Mr. Rouban, of “a reactivation of the right-left split which is far from having disappeared.”

Mr. Macron hailed his election as a great victory for France’s centre, but his first 100 days have shown just how fragile it is. 

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