The Irish Times view on Emmanuel Macron’s troubles: man overboard
The resignation of a popular minister delivers another blow to France’s president
The resignation of ecology minister Nicolas Hulot will be far more damaging for French president Emmanuel Macron than the loss of a minister would normally be. Photograph: Fred Tanneau/ AFP/Getty Images
Emmanuel Macron has rarely missed an opportunity to promote his green credentials. When Donald Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the French president quickly stepped up as the man to fill the leadership vacuum. “Make our planet great again,” he declared in a grave address from the Élysée. At home, Macron’s credibility on the issue came not from any of his policies but from the presence in his cabinet of Nicolas Hulot, a celebrity environmentalist who served as ecology minister. Since he gained star status as a TV presenter two decades ago, Hulot has been perhaps the most influential environmentalist in the country. Politicians have craved his approval. Hulot had declined the cabinet post under several of Macron’s predecessors, so getting him on board was an early coup for the young president.
That helps explain why Hulot’s abrupt resignation – announced live on radio on Tuesday – will be far more damaging for Macron than the loss of a minister would normally be. In a stinging critique of Macron’s record, Hulot spoke of an “accumulation of disappointments” with France’s “mini-steps” in taking on climate change and defending biodiversity. Hulot’s critics will legitimately ask whether he ever had the temperament for high office, and the compromises and trade-offs that come with it.
In his parting words, it was notable that he did not himself take any responsibility for the inaction of the past 15 months. Nonetheless, his criticisms are rooted in plain facts. In office, for example, Macron has watered down a series of campaign pledges on the environment, including a commitment to cut the share of nuclear power in French electricity to 50 per cent by 2025 and boost renewable energy.
Macron is facing severe headwinds. He went into the summer break buffeted by a scandal over a rogue aide and bad news on the economy. With the loss of his most popular minister, he now finds himself exposed to attack on an issue that many of his voters hold dear.