July 17, 2024

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Macron, isolated, prepares for French voters’ revenge

Macron, isolated, prepares for French voters’ revenge

Emmanuel Macron has taken many risks in a political career marked by countless crises, but his decision to call early elections may be an overreach that could tarnish his legacy and open the door to an era of extremism.

The tremors caused by Macron’s dissolution of the National Assembly after his centrist party suffered a defeat in European opinion polls are still strong, even as figures close to the president admit to being uneasy about the political turmoil.

“It is the president who killed the presidential majority,” said former Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, an ally of Macron.

The far-right National Rally party is likely to win, potentially giving the party of Marine Le Pen, Macron’s long-time rival, the prime minister’s office for the first time in a tense “coexistence”.

Macron’s popularity has fallen to the point where his allies have suggested he withdraw his role from the campaign, with Prime Minister Gabriel Attal taking the lead.

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For one of Macron’s most loyal supporters, some of the resentment stems from his unexpected rise to the presidency.

“There is a desire for revenge on the part of politicians who are dissatisfied with his success,” said Francois Patria, the leader of the pro-Macron deputies in the Senate.

Born in Amiens to two doctors, Macron met his future wife Brigitte when she was a teacher and 25 years his senior.

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“He fell in love with his drama teacher when he was 16, said he would marry her, and then married her. That’s very powerful,” said a former classmate at the elite ENA graduate school.

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With the same self-confidence, he resigned from former President François Hollande’s government in August 2016 to prepare for his candidacy for the presidency, a risky move at the time.

He then went on to create a political movement bearing the same initials as its leader, and won the presidential election in 2017 at the age of 39.

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Macron described himself as a “hopeless optimist” and later said he was able to break through the agreement “because France was unhappy and worried.”

But optimism about the former Rothschild investment banker, who once promoted “revolution” in his book, quickly turned negative because of his economic policies after taking office.

The former economy minister in a Socialist government gained a reputation as the “president of the rich” after announcing early in his term that he would abolish the tax on high-income earners.

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Then, last year, his move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 sparked mass protests and reinforced the perception that Macron was out of touch with public opinion.

“A lot of people think I’m arrogant,” he said. The jokes he made early in life haunted him, including one about unemployed people who only had to “cross the street” to find a job.

The now 46-year-old is convinced that his economic record speaks for itself, as France is considered the most attractive country in Europe for foreign investment and an end to mass unemployment.

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But for many, Macron’s promise of moderation has not held up under pressure from a wave of domestic and international crises – or from the far right.

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The anti-government “yellow vest” movement, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine are just a few of the challenges Macron has faced during his term.

Even as his support declined at home, Macron remained a major voice in European politics.

French-German environmentalist Daniel Cohn-Bendit said, “We should not argue. He is the great European of his time,” but added that Macron’s problem is that he is “convinced that he is right.”

Macron has aligned himself with allies who offered support to Ukraine after Russia’s 2022 invasion, but has angered many by continuing to deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two years later, the opposite is true, with Macron refusing to rule out sending troops to Ukraine, a move that other Western countries have criticized as needlessly inflammatory.

The late former Lyon mayor Gerard Collomb was more direct in his criticism, describing Macron’s “arrogance” and “lack of humility” in the government.

One former adviser said the perception that Macron is increasingly isolated is part of the problem.

They added that “he does not have any popular network… The people around him are the same people, and they do not express the mood of the times.”

While the first lady is seen as a moderate, Macron has shifted to the right, with some accusing the president of opportunism.

On the evening of his 2017 victory, Macron vowed outside the Louvre to do “everything in my power” to ensure “that the French have no reason to vote for extremism.”

But for many, the young centrist they voted for has shifted further to the right, opening the door for other extremists to take control.

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The same man who took inspiration from the slogan of an anti-capitalist party to win re-election in 2022, later adopted far-right figure Eric Zemmour’s words “so that France remains France.”

For Le Pen, who senses there is a chance of assuming the presidency in 2027, Macron has “an incredible resilience and self-confidence that is both his strength and his weakness.”

A former special adviser sees this flexibility differently.

“He is turning his back… on 2017 and human values,” Philippe Grangeon said, adding, “There is no rightward shift… The president adapts to the change of opinion.”

Macron rejects these criticisms, saying that he ultimately depends on himself. “You make the hardest decisions on your own,” he said.