Shortly After Being Elected, Macron's Popularity Fades Fast

Aug 11, 2017
Originally published on August 11, 2017 7:59 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Just three months ago, Emmanuel Macron, a man who had never held political office, was elected president of France. Macron rode in on a wave of discontent with the two main political parties that have governed France for the last 60 years. But polls show his popularity falling more quickly than any other newly elected French president. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us from Paris now to explain why. Hi, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi.

CHANG: So Macron is just 39 years old. He's dynamic. Many people have called him brilliant. What are the problems the French seem to have with their new president?

BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, Ailsa, some of this is normal. The honeymoon period is coming to a close. That usually lasts about three months. But we are in uncharted waters right now. For the first time, the French are discovering their president on the job. You know, former presidents Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy, Jacques Chirac spent decades in the public eye before they were elected, whereas Macron seemingly came out of nowhere. So people are discovering, for example, what's being described as an autocratic streak. You know, Macron - that's right - recently had a very public standoff with one of the country's top generals. And it seemed he tried to humiliate him. And that general ended up resigning. So there's a kind of ruthless side to Macron that people didn't see in the young, affable candidate. And just after being elected, Macron himself said that he wanted to rule like Jupiter, the all-powerful...

CHANG: (Laughter).

BEARDSLEY: ...God of the gods in Roman mythology. Believe it. You know, that seems kind of funny. But I spoke with political analyst Christophe Barbier, who told me that Macron completely changed once he was elected. Barbier referred to the beloved French children's character The Little Prince. And here's what he told me.

CHRISTOPHE BARBIER: Macron wanted to be the petit prince to make the people fall in love with him during the campaign. And after the victory, he had to become Jupiter to find respect and fear in the population.

CHANG: Jupiter - but Macron has been so visible on the world stage, reviving this idea of a strong European Union, successfully standing up to the Russian and American presidents. And the French approved of that. So what exactly is he doing that people do not like?

BEARDSLEY: That's right. They gave him an A-plus on foreign policy. What they don't like - it can sort of be chalked up to a series of small blunders that are starting to accumulate. You know, the public tiff with the general - he passed a law on the moralization of French political life. It passed yesterday, actually. That was a big point for Macron. Yet several of his ministers had to step down when it was discovered that they had family members on the payroll or had gotten some sort of financial benefits from their position. And then, you know, half of the new parliamentarians from his party are regular citizens. They're not professional politicians. That's great. But it's clear they really don't know what they're doing. So it's kind of chaotic right now. And then there's something else.

PHILIPPE MORISSET: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: That's Philippe Morisset. He's an attorney. I spoke with him in a cafe in Paris. He told me that a lot of people voted for Macron just to keep far-right candidate Marine Le Pen from winning. So they wanted to block Le Pen and are not necessarily for Macron and his program.

CHANG: What is Macron's program?

BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, one of the biggest things he was elected on is, you know, simplifying the reputedly complicated and onerous French labor laws. He wants to create jobs. So he wants to make it easier to hire. And to do that, he says, you have to make it easier to fire. And, you know, there are deep pockets of resistance to that because people don't want to see their protection scaled back. The unions have promised huge street protests in September - of course, when they're back from vacation. And that'll be Macron's first big test.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thanks, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.