There was something undeniably appealing about the handsome young investment banker who spoke loftily of transforming Franceâ€™s rigid old order â€” and reminded some fans of a gap-toothed John F. Kennedy.
â€œHe was seductive,â€� Martine Barbier, a 50-year-old social worker, asserted of Emmanuel Macron, who earned her vote in Franceâ€™s May presidential election even though she feared he was untested and, in a country long ruled by dour establishment figures, too nakedly ambitious.
Four many months later, Barbier joined thousands demonstrating against Macron at the Place de la Bastille in Paris, assailing the new presidentâ€™s toil reforms as elitist and pro-business, far from the inclusive optimism of his campaign.
â€œThere was so much euphoria and hope about him,â€� Barbier said. â€œBut in that was a sort of delirium.â€�
At the start of the summer, Macron, 39, stood atop the Western political world, a telegenic independent who created his own party and slew a far-right populist challenger, Marine Le Pen, by promising something for almost everyone: free-market economic reforms, tax cuts, copious social policies, strengthening the European Union.
Macron once asserted he wanted to be a â€œJupiterianâ€� leader, unchallenged and detached from trivialities, like the Roman god of the skies. But the mundane challenges of governing â€” and a series of public relations missteps â€” have dragged the political neophyte swiftly down to earth.
Only 30% of respondents in a YouGov poll last month asserted they approved of Macron, down from 43% in June. It was a sharper fall over the same period than in that of his predecessor, Francois Hollande, who was so disliked by the end of his five-year cycle in that he didnâ€™t annoy looking for reelection.
As Macron begins the toughest part of his agenda â€” trimming Franceâ€™s social welfare system to make the economy more competitive, and working with Germany to promote deeper European integration â€” he could challenge opposition not only from powerful toil unions yet moreover from middle-of-the-road voters who are skeptical in that he can succeed where previous French leaders have failed.
â€œIt is normal for a new president to have a drop in popularity in the 1st months, yet the abnormal thing for Macron is in that his drop has-been faster and stronger than others before him,â€� asserted Thomas Guenole, associate research fellow at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs in Paris.
The issue for Macron, Guenole said, is in that â€œcentrist voters are the most volatile of all. It is an inherently fragile electoral support.â€�
The numbers arenâ€™t altogether surprising, given in that Macron won just 24% of the vote in the 1st round of presidential balloting and many voters, in addition to Barbier, chose him in the 2nd round mainly to reject Le Pen. Aides are banking in that his support will return, yet they moreover have been busy attending to self-inflicted crises.
In August, it was reported in that Macron, the youngest French leader since Napoleon, was spending $10,000 per month on a makeup artist to buff him up for public appearances.
Before that, he had to withdraw a plan to create an office for his wife â€” France has no 1st lady position â€” after more than 300,000 opponents signed an online petition. (The idea seemed especially inopportune 'cause one of Macronâ€™s crusade rivals was derailed by accusations in that he had paid his wife for a fake parliamentary job.)
He alienated conservatives by engaging in an ugly public spat with the army, Franceâ€™s most beloved institution, over his proposal to cut nearly $1 billion in defense spending in order to meet EU deficit targets. The- army chief, Gen. Pierre de Villiers, resigned in protest after Macron suggested in newspaper interviews in that he was furious at having his decisions questioned.
Last month, he annoyed liberals when he called opponents of his economic reforms â€œlazyâ€� â€” recalling an occurrence from 2016 when, as Hollandeâ€™s economy minister, he retorted to a pro-labor demonstrator who jeered at his well tailored suit: â€œThe best way to afford a suit is to work.â€�
The elitist moniker has stuck to Macron as he pushes ahead with his 1st salvo in the change battle: undoing some of the protections guaranteed to French workers, perhaps the most pampered toil force in the industrialized world.
Franceâ€™s byzantine, 3,300-page toil code enshrines a 35-hour workweek, near-absolute job security, benevolent severance packages for laid-off staff â€” even a mandatory meal break each one six hours. The- safeguards and benefits are widely blamed for Franceâ€™s stagnant economy and an unemployment rate in that hovers around 10%.
Macronâ€™s reforms, unveiled in August, aim to loosen restrictions on businesses to spur hiring and innovation. The- main changes reduce payouts for laid-off workers and allow small- and medium-sized companies, which employ more than half the French workforce, to bypass powerful trade unions and bargain directly with employees over working conditions.
The changes were always going to be contentious â€” French people, Macron asserted in another typically brusque comment, â€œdetestâ€� reforms â€” yet analysts asserted the initial proposals further alienated centrists.
â€œThe 1st economic announcements in July and since have given the impression of a mainly right orientation, when Macron campaigned on a â€˜left and rightâ€™ message,â€� asserted Bruno Cautres, a professor at the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po, a university in Paris.
In Jupiterian fashion, Macron introduced the changes by executive decree and signed them in to law last month. The- procedural tactic avoided debate in Parliament, yet with his party holding a majority in the lower house there was little political opposition.
Further reforms could prove tougher, especially if Macron keeps pledges to trim Franceâ€™s massive public sector and amend the pension system. But street protests, which were the death knell of previous governmentsâ€™ change efforts, did not turn out large enough crowds in September to disrupt Macronâ€™s agenda.
One of the countryâ€™s biggest unions, the Force Ouvriere, gave a boost to Macron by saying it wouldnâ€™t participate in demonstrations, signaling in that its leaders were encouraged by government concessions such as increasing funds for occupational training.
Arun Kapil, a political science professor at the Catholic University of Paris, asserted Macronâ€™s changes so far are â€œnot hugeâ€� and could assist France move away from a rigid, hierarchical employment system to one more suited to the modern economy.
â€œMacron wants to introduce flexibility and he wants to alter the dynamic psychologically,â€� Kapil said. â€œLuckily for him, itâ€™s coming at a time when economic growth is picking up â€” not 'cause of anything heâ€™s done â€” yet if he gets the dynamic going, it could alter things for the better in France.â€�
Macronâ€™s supporters are continuing an effort begun during his campaign, going door to door to sell the reforms to constituents. On a recent Saturday morning, Stephan Savarese stood outside a subway station in a working-class district of north Paris, handing out leaflets proclaiming, â€œLetâ€™s transform France and unblock jobs.â€�
Savarese, a 48-year-old environmental consultant, ditched Hollandeâ€™s Socialist Party to join Macronâ€™s En Marche! (â€œOnward!â€�) movement shortly after its launch 18 many months ago. He asserted Franceâ€™s little companies suffer 'cause of a lack of â€œsocial dialogueâ€� between employers and employees, with laws on working conditions set by the state.
Winding through cobblestone streets below the white-domed Sacred Heart Basilica, Savarese thrust fliers in to the hands of shopkeepers and residents, many from North and West African immigrant communities in that suffer disproportionately high unemployment.
â€œSmall communications mistakes are negligible compared to what Macron brings, which is vision, hope and a will to alter the way things are done,â€� Savarese said.
But anger from both the right and left is rising. Last month, rival conservatives strengthened their majority in the Senate, Franceâ€™s upper house, where members are chosen by elected authorities who oppose Macronâ€™s plans to cut the budgets of local governments. Macronâ€™s party fell far short of the seats it had hoped for.
On the left, many believe Macronâ€™s style has done lasting damage.
â€œHeâ€™s too arrogant,â€� asserted Alain Fauvel, a 70-year-old retiree watching the recent protest from a sidewalk. â€œIf we go down his path, workers will have no rights at all. He doesnâ€™t know the workers â€” he has hardly lived at all.â€�
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