The Irish Times view on Macron’s troubles: Wounded – but still in the game

The French president’s problems are mounting just as his signature policies are starting to show signs of success

Ironically, Macron’s internal problems are mounting just at the point where some of his signature policies are starting to show clear signs of success. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Ironically, Macron’s internal problems are mounting just at the point where some of his signature policies are starting to show clear signs of success. Photograph: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

 

French president Emmanuel Macron might well have assumed his party’s preparations for next month’s local elections could not get any worse. That was until last week, when an explicit video purportedly sent by Benjamin Griveaux, the La République en Marche (LRM) candidate for mayor of Paris, appeared online and landed like a grenade in the ruling party’s faltering campaign. The material was posted online by a French-based Russian refugee and dissident artist best known for works of performance art, including nailing his scrotum to the ground in Moscow’s Red Square and setting fire to a door at the French central bank. On Friday, Griveaux, a founder member of Macron’s party, withdrew from the race for Paris city hall.

The fiasco of LRM’s campaign in the capital is a microcosm of its troubles nationwide. Griveaux’s chances were already undermined by the decision of his party colleague Cédric Villani, having failed to win the internal party contest for the nomination, to defy Macron and launch his own campaign for the mayoralty. Such defiance is reflective of a broader loss of discipline within LRM, Macron’s centrist party, which suffered three further defections from its National Assembly team last week, bringing its group in the lower house to 300 members. That’s down from 314 at the start of the term, a decline that shows the difficulty Macron faces in holding his disparate outfit together at a time when his lack of popularity is piling pressure – and abuse – on his elected colleagues.

The gilets jaunes protests have lost momentum and pension protests have also been waning

Paris should be an LRM stronghold. Macron won 90 per cent of the city’s vote in the second round of the 2017 presidential election, and its liberal bourgeois profile is a perfect fit with the LRM’s self-image. But while the party has made a mess of its campaign, it has also been buffeted by the headwinds that afflict the ruling bloc across the country. Many leftists in Macron’s bloc were unsettled by his attempts to force through a contentious pension reform, while his environmentalist allies increasingly doubt his will to act on decarbonisation. Prime minister Édouard Philippe, who comes from the centre-right, is running for mayor of his home town, Le Havre, as an insurance policy in case he decides to leave, or is forced out of, Macron’s government.

Ironically, Macron’s problems are mounting just as his signature policies are starting to show signs of success. The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2019, its lowest level in 11 years, putting Macron’s pledge to reduce it to seven per cent by 2022 within reach. The gilets jaunes protests have lost momentum and while another strike is planned today over the pension reform, those public protests have also been waning. Macron’s party is making a mess of the local elections, but with two years to go before he faces re-election, France’s Jupiterian president is still very much in the game.

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