Is Macron too toxic to win?
    POLITICO on "anti-president" mood in France

    WORLD  12 June 2024 - 20:34

    Caliber.Az shares POLITICO's piece on concerns among Macron's allies ahead of early parliamentary elections.

    Outside France, President Emmanuel Macron epitomizes the polished, self-assured European statesman. Inside France, he’s increasingly seen as a liability.

    In the wake of Macron’s bombshell decision to call a snap election after losing badly in the European Parliament contest, the French president’s allies fear he could lead them to disaster.

    “You won’t see Macron’s face on my campaign posters, I can tell you that,” said a member of parliament belonging to the French president’s coalition. “The Élysée Palace hasn’t really understood the ‘anti-president’ mood in France,” said an official with Macron’s Renaissance parliamentary group, who, like others in this story was granted anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.

    Polls show the French see their president as disdainful and authoritarian, and a lightning rod for anti-elite feelings that have been swirling in the wake of numerous crises, such as the Yellow Vest revolt and the Covid pandemic, that hit France in recent years. His reluctance to change course in the face of widespread protests over pension reform last year reinforced the view that he is aloof and out of touch, while his tone can come across as arrogant and elitist.

    On Sunday, that backlash crystallized at the ballot box. The far-right National Rally finished first in the European Parliament election in France with 31.4 percent of the vote — more than double the 14.6 percent received by Macron’s party. A survey conducted on the day of voting showed nearly half of voters had one key aim: to “express their dissatisfaction with Emmanuel Macron and the government.”

    In response to the defeat, Macron shocked Europe by dissolving the French parliament and calling fresh national elections to seize the initiative and silence the far right. The vote threatens not only to upend the French government but to blow up European politics at a critical time, with Russia’s war in Ukraine now deep into its third year.

    But not only is Macron not wanted on the campaign trail for his own Renaissance party, he’s also increasingly seen as a loose cannon, with accusations swirling that the president is out of touch and deluded about his appeal.

    While Macron sees a snap election as the only way to turn back the far-right tide and rally mainstream voters of all sides behind him, the fear within his own camp is that the opposite could happen.

    “If the president puts himself forward, it’s a huge risk,” said Mathieu Gallard, a research analyst at Ipsos. “What’s certain is that if he gets involved, he will mobilize people against him.”

    Early polling shows Macron’s party could once more take a beating as voters head back to polls for the two-round parliamentary election on June 30 and July 7. A real prospect is emerging that the presidential coalition could even be relegated to being the third force in French politics, behind the far right and potentially the left.

    For many allies and former supporters, Macron’s extraordinary self-belief is now turning into a denial of reality that’s making him blind to the antipathy he generates.

    The decision to go back to the polls is “the delirious act of a man who is knocked out by defeat,” said one former Elysée staffer.

    The tensions within the coalition backing Macron are such that heavyweights are calling on the French president to take a step back. François Bayrou, a key ally and one of Macron’s earliest supporters, was at the Élysée Palace on Monday evening to send the message that Macron “mustn’t get too involved in the campaign,” according to a centrist lawmaker. Bayrou has even discussed a necessary “de-Macronization” with his MPs, according to the lawmaker, who, like others quoted here, was granted anonymity to speak candidly.

    “The more he talks, the more we lose points [in the polls],” said an adviser to an MP from Macron’s Renaissance party.

    This is an unprecedented change in party dynamics for the Renaissance. The French president’s party, which emerged with him, has long been dismissed as a mere echo chamber for Macron, which would not exist without him.

    While it is common for French presidents to lose their appeal, he has been blamed for mishandling a succession of crises, some of which were of his own government’s making. Last year’s pension protests, in which hundreds of thousands took to the streets to oppose raising the retirement age, failed to move him. Macron effectively ignored those voices, using a constitutional backdoor to pass the law without a vote in parliament.

    He’s also seen widely as a president for the rich rather than a man drawn from the French people to lead them. He was an investment banker before entering politics and some of his policies on tax cuts have stoked the view that he’s primarily concerned with helping big business billionaires such as Bernard Arnault, the boss of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company and one of the richest people on the planet.

    There’s also a problem with his presentational style. Macron’s eloquence sometimes doesn’t work in his favor, often causing him to appear didactic, professorial or patronizing.

    Despite his party’s fears, Macron has his own plans for the snap election campaign. On Wednesday, he is expected to deliver a major speech to set the tone for his battle with the far right. According to several French outlets, the president plans to saturate the media with three appearances per week.

    While the presidency is not up for grabs in the election, Macron’s credibility is. Nevertheless, he has brushed aside suggestions that he could quit if his party crashes to another humiliating defeat.

    “I’m going [into the fight] to win,” he told Figaro Magazine on Monday.

    The risk is clear: The president was heavily involved in the European election campaign which just finished with a disastrous result for his party.

    “Renaissance scored catastrophically despite the president and his Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s strong involvement in the campaign,” said Gallard from Ipsos. “Their involvement wasn’t enough to mobilize their voter base, but the stakes are higher this time around with the plausibility of a [National Rally] government for the first time,” he said.

    Macron has often enjoyed taking risks during his political career, whether it’s confronting hostility or making announcements that haven’t been completely finalized. His rise to power, from lowly adviser to economy minister and then president, is a tale of good luck and well-timed gambles.

    But Macron has now suffered two election defeats in a row — in parliamentary elections in 2022 and again on Sunday — and is now facing another.

    “Emmanuel Macron has lost the aura he had in 2017” when he was first elected, said Gallard, “and we can clearly see that he’s struggling to communicate where he is leading the country,” he continued.

    The French president went into the European election off the back of D-Day commemorations alongside Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. President Joe Biden. “Intoxicated by his own presence” on the international stage, “the anti-climax [of the results] hit him hard,” said the same former Elysée staffer.

    Macron explained his own decision with defiance. “France needs a clear majority in serenity and harmony. To be French, at heart, is about choosing to write history, not being driven by it,” he said as he announced he was dissolving the National Assembly.

    So what happens if he loses?

    The far-right National Rally would become the leading force in France’s National Assembly for the first time. Macron’s presidential coalition would be neck-and-neck with the left-wing bloc. Dozens of his MPs could lose their seats.

    “We are being thrown under the bus,” said one party adviser, “for a mistake that belongs to him.”


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