Emmanuel Macron’s centrist vision and youthful drive for change was likened to that of Tony Blair’s rise to power and early years in office. Macron glided into the second round in the French presidential elections, and won by a vote share of 66.1%. Despite his political movement En Marche not having any MPs, he still beat Front National’s Marine Le Pen with ease. A month later in the National Assembly election, his presidential force resulted in an overwhelming majority of 350 seats out of 577. However, his actions and words as of late are suggesting his victorious honeymoon is waning.
During the run up to the election, he was put forth as the continuity candidate and endorsed by outgoing president Francois Hollande. Although he had some rumblings with Nicolas Sarkozy, he too endorsed the 39-year old former Rothschild banker. Following the election, he is seen as a new light in the European Union. But domestically, his charm is crumbling. He has made moves to reform the housing benefit system, cutting the amount by 5 euros per month. The change has affected millions of French citizens, including 800,000 students.
At the end of August, Macron supported incoming labour reforms that would loosen the way companies could let staff go and ease constraints on hiring. The government saw this as a means of liberalising labour laws, with a goal of shrinking the 9.6% unemployment rate. But the move stirred up a hornet’s nest among trade unions who responded with protests, arguing that Macron is on the side of big business and against workers’ rights. His approval ratings promptly dived from 64% to 54% – showing that while the Socialist Party may have suffered a disastrous defeat in the election, the unions still have a lot of power.
On September 22, Macron chose not to waver and pushed ahead with his labour reforms, officially signing them into law. The amendments shook up the 3,300-page labour code, which has some parts dating back over a century. In a bid to give companies yet more freedom, Macron decided they can now let go of staff regardless of whether they’re making a profit outside the country. In return, those being fired would receive higher payouts.
Two days later France had elections for the senate, and Macron tasted his first bitter moment since his election. His Republica En Marche shrunk from 29 seats to just 21 – a little under 8% of the vote share. The party had estimated that due to the impressive presidential election results, they would secure 50 to 60 seats out of the 170 that were up for grabs. Rival senators ridiculed En Marche for being ideologically inconsistent, and accused Macron of attacking the socialist framework whilst trying to cosy up to local powers for their vote. Due to the housing and labour reforms, local authorities such as mayors have had to absorb the public’s dissatisfaction. In the senate elections, only locally elected officials can vote: arguably, disgruntled individuals took this opportunity to stage their discontent.
Against the Tide
But Macron is striding on with his reforms. Along the way, he has been dubbed by critics as a ‘President for the rich’. The labour reforms continue to not be taken lightly by many factory workers who continue to spill out onto the streets protesting job losses. Macron lashed out at them, demanding they “stop wreaking f***ing havoc….stop stirring s*** up”. These words were specifically directed at workers from car parts factory GM&S, which has been laying off employees.
The president has also controversially pushed for changing the country’s highly symbolic ‘wealth tax’. France is the only country in the EU to still have such a tax, which was introduced by the socialist government in the 1980s. Applicable to individuals who have assets worth €1.3 million and above, Macron has made moves to change this to a tax on individual real estate, thus excluding movable assets. This abolishment and new tax is due to come in over the next year as part of the budget. Also to be introduced in 2018 is a gradual receding of corporate tax. France has one of the highest corporate taxes in the European Union with 33.33%, but it is set to become 25% by 2022.
For the EU and europhiles in France, his saving grace is his fierce love for the European Union, shown by his recent calls for increased integration. But public upheaval against him is steadily increasing, and is unlikely to let us considering the country’s socialist traditions. Macron’s image isn’t helped by revelations such as his 26,000 euro spend of public money on makeup since his victory. In order for his reforms to be met with a lighter touch from the public, it might be worth seeking to engage in more open discourse. By highlighting the failings of the Socialist Party under François Hollande’s, he may be able to convince the French populace to stomach his economic reforms – at least in the short run.