Millennium Post

Falling fortunes

Until the other day, he was, arguably, the most popular European leader. Having made his mark on the world stage, everyone looked forward to his take. But a year and a half into his first term, French President Emmanuel Macron is looking for a new start. He reshuffled his cabinet and made a rare televised address to assure France that all is well after a bruising summer which has seen his popularity rating plummet amid protests, scandals, and worse. His approval rating fell to 29 per cent in September, an all-time low, after a summer of protests over proposed economic reforms and scandals involving his security aide Alexandre Benalla. Benalla was filmed wearing a police helmet and beating May Day protesters in July, after which he was dismissed.

Macron has also been hit by resignations of key cabinet officials, especially environment minister Nicolas Hulot, who quit the government during a live radio interview in frustration at Macron's failure to tackle climate change. Interior minister Gerard Collomb also announced his intention to leave the cabinet and return to his old job as mayor of Lyon. Even as he has courted international public opinion, delivering a pointed rebuke to US President Donald Trump's isolationist message at the United Nations, Macron has faced growing criticism at home for pursuing unpopular policies that many perceive as benefiting France's richest and cutting into the country's treasured social protections.

Public services ground to a halt in July amid mass protests and strikes against Macron's proposed economic reforms, which would slash public spending and see over 120,000 people laid off. "Macron is implementing an agenda that aims at destroying all the benefits conquered throughout the past half-century:pensions, protections against unfair dismissal, terms and conditions in both private and public sector," Axel Persson from the CGT union's rail workers branch said at the time: "If he gets his way, we will be back to square one in terms of workers' rights in France." This agenda has led to criticism by figures on the left, particularly from France Unbowed leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Police raided Mélenchon's offices this week over alleged misuse of European Union funds, prompting a furious protest from the 67-year-old who has accused the investigation of being politically motivated. On the other side of the political spectrum, the other person in that run-off, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, has also ramped up pressure on Macron's administration, fanning anti-immigrant and anti-EU sentiment even as the French President has emerged as one of the bloc's strongest proponents. "In recent months we have seen the poison of division reappear," Macron said in his address Tuesday. "But I only have one compass, the faith you put in me in May 2017."True. But his travails underscore the fact that he must concentrate on the home front.

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