Friday 20 September 2019

Mary Fitzgerald: 'Macron enduring troubling times amid a swirl of domestic rows and gains for far-right rival Le Pen'

 

Emmanuel Macron is having a difficult November. Photo: Philippe Wojazer
Emmanuel Macron is having a difficult November. Photo: Philippe Wojazer

Mary Fitzgerald

Emmanuel Macron is having a difficult November in what has been a difficult year for the man who was elected French president on a wave of enthusiasm in 2017.

The fallout continues from his handling of a summer controversy over his bodyguard posing as a police officer and beating demonstrators at a May Day rally. Some weeks later ministers began to quit, starting with Nicolas Hulot, the popular environment minister who made no bones about his frustration with the inner workings of the Macron presidency.

After that came sports minister Laura Flessel and then the biggest blow, the resignation of interior minister Gérard Collomb, who complained to media of a "lack of humility" within Macron's administration and warned that the president risked isolation.

In between, an MP for Macron's party La République En Marche (REM) -which came out of nowhere to propel him to the Elysée last year - also decided to abandon ship and compared the party to the Titanic.

In recent weeks, polls have shown Macron's ratings have dipped even lower than his notoriously unpopular predecessor, François Hollande, while the far-right party of his main challenger for the presidency - Marine Le Pen - is surging forward when it comes to next year's European elections.

Last week, rumours swirled over Macron's health when he took four days off to rest in Normandy. The break - amid whisperings of burnout - jarred with the image he has shaped of himself as the energetic young president who gets by on four hours of sleep and has clocked up 66 overseas trips since his inauguration.

This week, six people linked to the far-right were arrested as part of an investigation into a suspected plot to attack Macron, the second time he has been targeted. A self-described far-right nationalist has been charged over a plot to assassinate the president during last year's Bastille Day celebrations.

Many argue that Macron has only himself to blame for the speed with which he has gone from neophyte politician lauded in France and beyond for defeating Le Pen to unpopular president struggling to regain his footing. One poll in September which showed Macron's approval rating had dropped to 29pc also found that 'arrogant' and 'superficial' were the words most frequently used to describe him by those polled.

A recent op-ed in 'Le Monde' was damning. "Macron is firstly the president of urban people, and of well-off France," it argued, echoing an accusation made by opponents from the outset and which Macron has failed to shrug off, not least because of his policy decisions.

His attempt to overhaul labour laws has sparked criticism that he is undermining workers' rights for the benefit of employers. Pension reform also prompted fury. A planned increase in fuel tax has prompted a call for national protests on November 17.

Macron's prickliness when confronted by members of the public hasn't helped. He told one young man who griped that he couldn't get work - in a country where youth unemployment has soared - that he should just cross the street and find a job. Macron may have hoped that his hosting this week of world leaders to mark the centenary of the end of World War I would distract from domestic woes. But he triggered outrage by supporting the idea that France should pay tribute to the WWI role of General Philippe Pétain, who went on to become leader of France's Vichy government which collaborated with Nazi Germany and assisted in the deportation of 76,000 French Jews. The Elysée later backtracked on Macron's comments regarding Pétain, a figure eulogised by many in the far-right.

Macron feels Le Pen again snapping at this heels, with the Front National party her father founded rebranded as National Rally since she lost the presidential election last year. Le Pen's camp is not a serious opposition within parliament, with only eight MPs against REM's majority of 308, but her party - just like other far-right and Eurosceptic groups -has tended to perform well at European Parliament elections they take more seriously than mainstream parties.

In May, Macron's REM party had a clear lead in the polls for the European elections with 24pc, with National Rally at 19.5pc. The months since have been so rocky for Macron, his administration and his party, that polls now show REM and National Rally both at 20pc.

For a man whose support for the idea of the EU has been a cornerstone of his presidency, these are worrying figures indeed.

Irish Independent

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