Irish Times view on criticism of Emmanuel Macron: moderating the whirlwind
French president should slow down and exercise power more modestly if he wants to consolidate his success
Élysée senior security officer Alexandre Benalla stands next to French president Emmanuel Macron during a visit to the Paris International Agricultural Show (Salon de l’Agriculture) in February. File photograph: Stephane Mahe/Reuters
Monarchic excess, autocratic drift, impunity, favouring the rich, cronyism, control freakery, parallel police, out of touch. These are but some of the accusations hurled at president Emmanuel Macron by French critics following the revelation that the head of his personal security team manhandled two left-wing protesters on a May Day demonstration. When the story broke two weeks ago what rankled most was the delayed punishment and cover-up evident in the presidential office. The affair has fed into more widespread disquiet over Macron’s highly centralised style of government, deflated his poll ratings and obscured the dynamic policy initiatives which still attract his core supporters.
Alexandre Benalla, aged 26, worked with Macron during his election campaign last year and then joined the Élysée team where he was inseparable from the president and enjoyed many privileges. When the presidential office heard of the May Day event he was disciplined but not fired until it went public. Macron has taken full responsibility, promises a comprehensive review of procedures and governance and attacked media coverage of the affair for being inappropriately judicial. This week his government easily survived two motions of confidence in the National Assembly.
The episode gives Macron an opportunity to reflect and act on his whirlwind approach to governing and the resentments it has built up across the French political spectrum. His Jupiterean reputation is deserved even if that image is overblown. The pace, energy and intelligence he has brought to campaigning for office and pursuing reforms in his first year in power have transformed the French political scene and given him many successes. His domestic economic and labour market reform programme has already produced positive results despite continuing resistance and is set to continue. They are linked to wider European ones in pursuit of a strategic partnership with Angela Merkel in Germany. His visionary ideas on European reform have come up against the populist revolt throughout the European Union but still offer hope for progressive change.
The gathering resentment about the methods and content Macron employs is commensurate with his hurtling pace. That he exploits to the full the huge power France invests in its presidency can readily be seen in the tight control he exercises over his presidential team and its autonomy from established political and social forces. That is the measure of the change he has wrought. But it comes at costs all too visible and vehemently expressed in this Benalla affair. The accusations of excess power and control, impunity and favouring the better off are heartfelt and deserve close attention. As a result Macron should slow down, think more strategically and exercise power more modestly if he wants to consolidate his undoubted success so far.