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As 7 more MPs abandon President Macron and the lockdown pressure cooker threatens to blow, will the French leader lose his head?

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
As 7 more MPs abandon President Macron and the lockdown pressure cooker threatens to blow, will the French leader lose his head?
He took French politics by storm in 2017, charming voters and world leaders alike. But now Emmanuel Macron faces disgruntled voters and ongoing protests that even his decisive handling of the coronavirus crisis won’t overcome.

The latest blow to Emmanuel Macron, with seven more of his En Marche MPs defecting to a new political group just as he attempts to reassert his role as a dominant player on the European stage, could well be the beginning of the end for the under-siege French president.

It seems to be death by a thousand cuts for the Elysee Palace incumbent, with the current defections piling up with others from earlier this year and even prior to that, his poll figures slumping, key policies on ice or abandoned, and the imminent return of the Gilets Jaunes protests adding to his worries.

Not good times.

Having begun his presidential term with 314 members of parliament in 2017, Macron’s La Republique en Marche movement is fraying at the edges and, following the batch of recent departures, finds itself one short of the 289 threshold required to form a government outright.

With the continued support of the centrist MoDem party he will, however, remain in power – for now. But there will certainly be a price to pay at some point for that critical assistance.

It’s a bad sign when you start losing your MPs and they insist on making it known in the press and on social media that it’s you that is both the problem and the sole reason for their disenchantment.

On top of this disappointment, there is also the looming prospect of the second round of local elections which, when they do eventually go ahead, are expected to provide a repeat of the punishment beating handed out in the first round in March.

At that point Macron may find that even more of his dwindling number of MPs have had enough of him, and if the numbers then go against him... well, it might be game over.

The president must have thought his problems could be resolved if he managed to position himself as the guy in charge. The man with the plan. 

So chumming up with his old ally Angela Merkel and devising a Covid-19 recovery initiative which would spend €500 billion of the EU budget could be just the medicine to remind people of the dynamic politician who took the world of French politics by storm just a few years ago.

But at a time of brewing national crises, it’s unlikely the French would be too impressed with this latest foray into statesmanship when there are more pressing issues at home, such as the nearly 30,000 coronavirus deaths so far and a nation slumped into deep recession and struggling to emerge from a socially traumatic lockdown.

Also on rt.com ‘Desperate even before Covid-19’: Underequipped French nurses roast Macron at Paris hospital

Anyway, attempting to build European consensus on any recovery strategy is a fool’s errand. A proposal will need all 27 members of the bloc to agree – and with the frugal four of Austria, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands firmly in the “No, thanks” camp already, and an undeniable surge of nationalism typified by the continuing closed borders, it’s hard to understand exactly how Macron thought he would turn that into a mutually agreed outcome with himself as the man to the rescue.

He should have simply left it to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her cronies. After all, that’s what they are there for.

But then Macron’s ego comes in.

The former investment banker has never been short on self-belief, until now.

Despite a furlough scheme that gave workers 84% of their salary to sit around at home during lockdown, and a general agreement that his government’s handling of the pandemic has been decisive and effective, this hasn’t transferred into popularity for the ‘Jupiterian’ Macron.

His approval rating has slumped to 38% in the most recent IPSOS poll, while his visit to a hospital recently went badly, as medical staff turned on him in a timely reminder – as things slowly return to “normal” – that his efforts at wide-scale public sector pension reform, currently on the backburner, had been neither forgotten nor forgiven. And as elsewhere, hospital and medical staff are now the heroes, and a grateful public will willingly fall into line to support them on issues that matter.

Then there is the pressure cooker of protest that began over diesel fuel taxes before morphing into something far greater. It has been simmering away during the pandemic and Macron’s old foes, those Gilets Jaunes, are set to return, rested and rejuvenated and maybe, as some predict, with a more radical approach than they have been pursuing for the last 15 months. More radical than the weekly Saturday afternoon tear-up along the Champs Elysee and elsewhere, which leaves cars burning, shop windows smashed and an angry nation blaming one person for this outpouring of rage and the myriad problems that fuel it.

This return to ‘normal’ is not a happy prospect for Monsieur Le President.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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