What difference can one year make? Every politician can feel the anger of the people in a year after he was sung as a hero, but what is happening to French President Emmanuel Macron before the first anniversary of his election seems to pass many common boundaries in Europe. The students, rail workers, administration workers, pensioners, trade unions in France are angry. Only the only satisfied citizens are the executives. And only because Macron has decided to deliver what he has promised – a change of France so that it can catch up with the developed economies.
Macron does not have a lot of reasons to be satisfied. Up to 60 percent of the French are “unhappy” with him and his ambitious reform agenda. In a poll conducted for the Paris Match magazine and released on Wednesday, figures are disappointing for the president, who thinks he will be remembered as a reformer and the man who restored France’s power. The approval rate for Macron’s work is 40, and yet the majority, 57 percent, agrees that the president is keeping his election promises to reduce the role of the state and increase France’s competitiveness.
“I’m doing what I said I would do,” Macron said the other day. Hardly 30 percent of respondents agree that Macron “understands the concerns of the French people” and that the announced tax incentives for those who earn the most make him “president of the rich.” The French have a much greater understanding of Macron’s foreign policy, and as many as 67 percent agree with his passionate defense of the EU and relations in the Union, as well as improving France’s reputation in the world.
When the results of this nasty poll were announced, Macron was visiting eastern France where he was greeted with whistles by hostile railwaymen. French Railways, SNCF, are in huge debt and Macron wants to reduce the privileges that their workers have. The president’s proposal of January 1, 2020 to stop the guarantee of a benchmark job for newly employed workers, was the initial set of strikes that began last month and will last until the end of June. During these strikes only one of three super-fast trains “TGV” is on the railroad tracks, and one of four inter-axial trains. Students, administration workers and pensioners joined several large-scale demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. The day before the poll was published, students occupied prestigious Sciences Po, the last such blockade in the ranks of actions that took place at other universities. On one of the windows of the university was the banner “Students of Sciences Po are against the Macron dictatorship”. From this elite university came generations of French politicians, including Macron himself. Students are strongly opposed to the announced reforms in higher education, with which reception of freshmen should be much more selective.
Macron has angered pensioners, announcing an increase in taxes for them, then administration workers who are not satisfied with the proposed cut in the high costs in the public sector. Finally, he angered many other Frenchmen, declaring that he would bring down the maximum allowed speed of the main roads at 80 kilometers per hour to reduce the number of accidents with death consequences.
This tough week for Macron began last week with an interview on TF1 television, which he faced with shouts and insults by two well-known French journalists. One was Edwy Plenel, the first man of the research network Mediapart and former editor-in-chief of ‘Le Monde’. And the other Jean-Jacques Burden from the RMC-BFM television. These veterans of the interview did not wear ties and did not call him “Mr. President”, but referred to him simply as “Emmanuel Macron” from the beginning to the end, as If he was Citizen Macron from the time of the French Revolution. This interview, which is still being mentioned by the French media, opened the hunting season of the French president in its own way. “There is dissatisfaction In every area,” journalist Plenel rattled before the president, and Macron could not conceal his anger: “Your question is biased. The discontent of the railways has nothing to do with the dissatisfaction of the hospitals.” Burden, almost yelling at Macron, said: “You are looking for cash in the wallets of pensioners. Excuse me, Emmanuel Macron!”
“I have to return the country back to work,” Macron answered. “You are not a teacher, and we are not disciples,” Plenel replied furiously, using the phrase that has been part of the French political debate for decades. “I do not want intellectual dishonesty” whispered Macron through his teeth.
Some of his angry political opponents, such as the ultimate left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, said triumphantly that “Jupiter fell from the sky”, alluding to the king of the gods. Macron, or Jupiter, certainly did not fall from the sky, but his charisma and message are threatened, mostly because there are too many people in France who are inclined to remain the situation in a status quo, as well as the great generosity of the state. Macron has been accused of restoring the monarchist culture in France and pointing in particular to his “triumphal” address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Macron was greeted with much pomp and unusual honors. He outlined his cautious vision of the future of the European Union, which was vilified by many lawmakers as unrealistic, and some suggested that he was a charlatan.
At the same time, in the French bookstores, the memoirs of Macron’s predecessor, Francois Hollande, “Lessons of Power” appeared, in which he had no nice words about the president, who at one time was his protégé and minister of economy. Hollande indirectly announces that Macron had stabbed a knife in his back after publishing his presidential bid, although he had previously assured him that he had no such intentions. With domestic concerns in thought, Emanuel Macron traveled today to Washington to meet with the man with whom he is well-understood – Donald Trump. Trying to present himself as a new leader in Europe, Macron goes on a mission to persuade Trump not to give up the Iranian nuclear deal. On Thursday, Macron was in Berlin for a meeting with Angela Merkel to, among other things, prepare the European offer for additional obligations on the main treaty, because it largely depends on regional peace. Macron expects Trump to have an understanding of European desires, just as he took the advice of a limited missile strike against Syrian chemical weapons production centers. Macron and Trump will have the opportunity to discuss Syria, North Korea and Russia on two official evenings – one only for the two married couples on George Washington’s Virginia property, and the next on the official state dinner at the White House. Macron will also have a 30-minute speech in Congress. It has been a long time since a European leader has been welcomed with such honors in Washington. It is a result of Trump’s and Macron’s specific friendship, although support for the US president in France is only 14 percent. Macron seems to have set a task to “cultivate” Trump’s behavior and keep it in the circle of European allies, especially when creating a common defense policy.
These honors in America will only ease the domestic headaches for a moment, and then Macron will bring it back to the European field. Because of his ambitions to establish a bigger European budget and finance minister that will be in charge of all countries in the Eurozone, as well as the creation of a banking union, he does not have much understanding in Berlin. Macron has already withdrawn from his idea of transnational candidates for the European elections in 2019, when he saw that parties in the largest countries do not want to give up their power and accept the realpolitik approach.
The key to his European leadership lies in the elections for the European Parliament next year. Large party groups are seeking the support of his newly formed party. Macron expects to see the success of his party in France, and then build alliances. Without his support, the European People’s Party will lose power in European institutions. Here lies his power to convince other European leaders, especially in the right-center bloc. “I do not belong to any political family that is presented to you,” he said in the European Parliament. “It’s my freedom.”