Emmanuel Macron’s fatigue gives his government the blues

French president pays for overpromising as rumours of burnout afflict his brand

Emmanuel Macron at a news conference in Turkey late last month © AP

FT: Opinion Global Insight -ANNE SYLVAINE CHASSANY

NOVEMBER 6, 2018

Has Emmanuel Macron run out of puff? The French president’s decision to take a few days off in Normandy last week has fuelled talk of a burnout. The Elysée did not assuage concerns by explaining that Mr Macron sought to “manage his effort” ahead of hosting grand first world war commemorations. Nor did Mr Macron by telling journalists he was following a family tradition of spending January 1 in the pretty Norman port of Honfleur – when he clearly meant November 1. Even his inner circle is worried.

Mr Macron, who sleeps three or four hours a night, is a micromanager at heart. Since he was elected in May last year, power has resided in the hands of a few advisers in the Elysée. His ministers, MPs and party executives have learnt to wait for word from the boss. Any dysfunction at the top would reverberate throughout the government and parliament.

Exhaustion is also out of keeping with the Macron brand. He has made youth, optimism and action his political trademark and part of his push to rekindle the French economy and shake up the EU.

“Macron has positioned himself as the saviour of the world and the one who would change the lives of the French,” said Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist at Sciences Po, the research university. “But domestically and abroad, he seems helpless. He’s paying for over-promising and there isn’t much he can do to fix this, other than to wait for reforms to bear fruit at home.”

Some members of the Macron team depict the presidential pause in less dramatic terms. “He has lows, we all have them,” said one. But another spoke of a “breakdown,” partly linked to the steady decline in the president’s approval ratings, which are now below those of his unpopular predecessor François Hollande.

An Ifop survey suggested Mr Macron’s La Republique en Marche party would receive only 19 per cent in next year’s EU elections, his first electoral test since taking office. That would be behind the far-right forces of Marine Le Pen. He has fallen victim of his own system — whereby he takes care of everything and no one is responsible for anything. He has shown he could conquer power like this, but he can’t govern like this Member of the Macron circle

The last few months have been gruelling for the president. First came the July revelations that Alexandre Benalla, a member of his security staff, had beaten May Day protesters. Then came the resignations of Nicolas Hulot, environment minister, and Gérard Collomb, interior minister. That it took Mr Macron more than two weeks to find a successor to Mr Collomb in the person of Christophe Castaner — a loyalist with no security credentials — has highlighted the limited pool of talent and allies surrounding him. “

He has fallen victim of his own system — whereby he takes care of everything and no one is responsible for anything,” a member of the Macron circle said. “He has shown he could conquer power like this, but he can’t govern like this.”

Angela Merkel’s decision to step down as the leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats is another setback. The French leader has bent over backwards to build trust with the chancellor in the hope she would support bold plans to integrate the eurozone further. Ms Merkel’s departure throws into doubt even the meagre concessions she had made to her French counterpart, notably over an embryonic budget for the single currency union. Macron battles to stay on top in France as presidency falters

Some fear that if Mr Macron is cut down to size, it will embolden France’s populists on both the right and the left. This is the theory, promoted by the French president himself, that he is Europe’s last holdout against the new politics of insurgency. But his stumbles could also give hope to members of France’s old political caste. In particular, some in the centre-right Republicans party might see an opportunity to lure back disillusioned voters. Mr Macron might be losing steam, but France’s old political order still hopes to ride its way back to power.

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