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Gerard O'Regan: 'Macron has learned that everyone has a plan until they get punched in face'

'Though we live in a world that dreams of ending,
That always seems about to give in,
Something that will not acknowledge conclusion,
Insists that we forever begin.'
- Brendan Kennelly


'Even by French standards of civil disobedience, the yellow vest protests have had an edge unseen for a long time.'  (AP)

'Even by French standards of civil disobedience, the yellow vest protests have had an edge unseen for a long time.' (AP)

AP/PA Images

'Even by French standards of civil disobedience, the yellow vest protests have had an edge unseen for a long time.' (AP)

And so to those pesky new year resolutions. It's early days, but we already know some simply won't stay the course. Challenging the cross-trainer in the local gym - as part of some born-again fitness vibe - is optimism outshining experience. And as for that nettle soup and aubergine diet - well, it was never really a runner.

Yet there is a therapy, in however fleeting a fashion, in the battle to start anew. Most of all it panders to the never-ending human quest to try to control events. But deep down we know boxer Mike Tyson got things spot on. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

Still, it's understandable people try to predict the future - and in their own way, prepare for it. So why not embrace some gym time excesses, or the variants of nettle soup? It's all in the cause of being fighting fit for the unknown.

And speaking of those who look the part for battles to come, Emmanuel Macron certainly cuts a bit of a dash. He's French, of course, and it's all too easy to get a bit dewy-eyed once we hear the sweet sounds of the world's most sonorous language. He is the epitome of Gallic urbanity when we see him at EU get-togethers. The suits are especially well tailored, and a cultivated Mediterranean suave sets him apart from pale-faced Euro counterparts.

He's even been able to keep in step with the doggedness of Angela Merkel. Germany may be in the driving seat of the Brussels juggernaut, but Macron has been able to maintain an illusion of France as a kind of joint leader.

On the domestic front, it seemed things were toddling along quite nicely for him. And why shouldn't they? All the major European economies are at near full employment. The jobless rate in France is the lowest in nearly a decade. Should that not be the number one test for any politician?

Yet suddenly, out of the blue, Macron got his Tyson-style sucker punch. Even by French standards of civil disobedience, the yellow vest protests have had an edge unseen for a long time. The sight of burned-out cars and police firing water cannon on the Champs-Élysées made our own agitations over water charges seem like very small potatoes. Joan Burton may have had a shaky experience when her ministerial car was surrounded by chanting activists. But overall the venom displayed on the Parisian thoroughfares was of a much more vindictive hue.

It's a classic story of internal French combustion. Protest, and street protest in particular, has had a long history as the supreme outlet for populist anger. But recent events have surely dented a previous ease and assurance around the Macron presidency. Where to now, as the Élysée Palace is suddenly fraught with uncertainty.

Despite some fighting talk, the bottom line is that Macron has had to back down. His proposed fuel tax hikes have been suspended. A generous helping of humble pie has suddenly become part of the presidential menu.

So what is he to do? Should he quietly accept defeat, and risk the long-term authority of his government? Or should he regroup and force through a programme of reform he insists will better France?

No doubt the holiday period has been a time for some deep thoughts. Who is to know what secret new year resolutions he may harbour? But as a politician who has suffered one hell of a jolt, he will be doubly cautious by way of relying on any so-called certainties this new year may promise. To make matters worse, opinion polls in the last 48 hours suggest his popularity ratings have plummeted to an unprecedented low.

However, Macron's svelte demeanour also suggests he has little need for the rigours of the cross-trainer. And his refined French palate would surely bristle at the doubtful consolations of nettles and aubergines.

Perhaps something akin to marinated frogs legs might be more to his liking - should a seasonal detox be on the menu. But one way or another, as the poet says, begin again he must.

Irish Independent