Is this the real reason Macron is so unpopular in France?

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Is this the real reason Macron is so unpopular in France?
Photo: AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron is hoping a government reshuffle will improve his tumbling popularity. But is it all his fault that the public don't like him? Or could there be some other factors at play?


At the end of September a major poll by research group Ifop revealed that Macron's popularity had hit its lowest level since the start of his term in May 2017, with just 29 percent of respondents saying they were satisfied with his leadership. 
It's true that since Macron came into power, the image of a young, confident, capable president has slowly slipped away as the French leader faces regular criticism for his loose tongue, particularly when speaking to the public, and his perceived arrogance. He is accused by his detractors of being over-privileged and out of of touch with reality.
He has been criticised for telling off a French teen for asking him "How's it going, Manu?" and more recently for telling an aspiring gardener that he could easily find a job if he would simply start looking in high-demand sectors like restaurants or construction.
And currently in France, barely a week goes by without a story that many feel highlights the French president's detachment from his people. 
On top of that there have been the growing number of political crises, such as the resignations of both his Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, and his ecology minister Nicolas Hulot. The so-called Benalla scandal which blew up after a video emerged of his security aide Alexandre Benalla pretending to be a policeman to rough up protesters hurt the president.
Macron is set to announce a government reshuffle this week in an effort to boost his popularity but nevertheless, just 18 months into his presidency, and it doesn't look like it's going well.
But can we really blame this all on Macron? Or are there other factors at play that make being a popular president very difficult to achieve in France?
Photo: AFP
According to French historian Jean Garrigues, who recently published a book called, "The Republic of Traitors, political betrayals since 1958" Macron can blame some of his popularity problems on France's presidential system which sees the head of state elected for five years (known as le quinquennat in French). 
In the year 2000, a referendum shortened the presidential term from seven years to five years and Garrigues argues that this has had a negative effect on the way the French public sees their leaders. 
"We have become a consumer society using its political class as a product whose obsolescence is programmed," Garrigues told Le Parisien newspaper.
"Voters no longer believe in ideologies, they consume and then reject their elected representatives, including the President of the Republic."
Garrigues went on to say that the shortened length of the presidency combined with the contemporary media environment, with people consuming news at a faster pace than ever before, has led to French presidents being over-exposed.
"The omnipresence of social networks have resulted in constant vigilance regarding the actions of the presidents," said the historian.
"There is therefore a proliferation of reasons for discontent, protest or outrage, weakening the presidential function little by little. Presidents have a very reduced state of grace."
And Macron isn't alone in this, argues Garrigues. After all, former presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande  struggled with steadily decreasing approval ratings during their five-year terms in office.
A further problem with the way the five-year term works is that it also led to the presidential elections and the legislative elections - when the French elect their MPs - being held within a couple of months of each other. Previously the legislatives were held halfway through a term. 
Photo: AFP
According to Garrigues, this means that the president is "on the front line, the focal point" and fewer of the country's other powerful political figures are visible enough to bear the brunt of public opinion. 
As a result, Garrigues believes that the introduction of the quinquennat was "a big mistake" and should be abolished.
"If we want to preserve the legitimacy of the institutions, which is based on coherence and longevity, the seven-year term is a necessity," he said. 
But it isn't only down to the five-year terms, said Garringue. It's also to do with the way the voting works. 
Macron won just 24 percent of the vote in the first round of the 2017 presidential election, which is when voters tend to opt for their candidate of choice. 
Although he picked up 66 percent in the second round against the far right Marine Le Pen, essentially only one quarter of the population backed the winner.
"It's no wonder the majority [of people] who voted for his opponents in the first round and then abstained or rallied around him for the second round, are quick to take refuge in a critical position," he said.
And while this was true for presidents before the change in the length of the presidency, Garrigues argues that Charles de Gaulle came to the presidency with a huge amount of personal prestige due to his achievements during the war as well as the strong economic growth seen during the 1960s, while Francois Mitterand was extremely successful at communicating with the French people.
And this, in particular, is something that up until now Macron has struggled with. 
So with all this in mind, is it likely Macron will be elected for a second term?
According to Garrigues, it's "hard to say", although the historian highlighted there are a few factors in his favour: that he is largely "doing what he promised", that he represents a "new generation of politics" and that for the moment, the Socialists and Les Republicains parties are greatly weakened and don't pose a significant threat. 
But in the meantime, it looks like he's got a long journey ahead of him if he wants the French public to like him, rather than just tolerate him. 


Comments (3)

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Anonymous 2018/10/11 11:30
De Gaulle's achievements in WWII were only down to the UK and the US, not of his own making. I could never understand why the French people always viewed him as such a super hero when he spent the majority of his war years hiding in the UK. Then in the post war years, to thank the UK for it's support during those troubled times he did everything possible to undermine the UK, including rejecting its application to join the then Common Market, no doubt afraid of France losing it's preeminent position to the UK, and the loss of the French language as the core European language. Given the second round choice of Le Pen or Macron, it's little surprise that Macron got in, but what a choice, talk about Catch 22.
Anonymous 2018/10/09 21:42
It's not easy being in charge. <br />There are huge upheavals around the world; a stage on which he must perform; but the vast majority of ordinary folk have little more than a passing interest in most of these cataclysms.<br />The challenge, for him, is to reconcile these two extremes without appearing either aloof or patronising.<br />I remarked from the first day of his presidency; 'he will be either a political colossus or a pointless catastrophe - no middle ground for this man.'<br />I hope he becomes the former. France and Europe needs a colossus.
Anonymous 2018/10/09 20:22
The voters put Macron in office because they did not want the racist, bigoted Marine Le Pen.<br />Macron made it quite clear what his objectives would be if he was elected. If they thought he was lying and would change tack once he was in office, then they where badly mistaken.<br />He may seem to be arrogant and aloof, but I admire him for sticking to his guns and not seeking popularity.<br />He is the strong president that France needs.

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