Losing Ministers May Be Blessing in Disguise for Macron

It’s not an auspicious start for the new French president, but at least he is rid of a potential troublemaker.

French president Emmanuel Macron meets with his prime minister, Édouard Philippe, at the Elysée Palace in Paris, May 17
French president Emmanuel Macron meets with his prime minister, Édouard Philippe, at the Elysée Palace in Paris, May 17 (Facebook)

It all seemed to be going so well. In May, Emmanuel Macron won a convincing mandate from French voters, beating the National Front’s Marine Le Pen with 66 to 34 percent support. This month, his presidential party, La République En Marche, won 350 out of 577 seats in the National Assembly, one of the biggest landslides in French political history.

Now in the space of one week, Macron has lost four of his ministers. All have stepped down to face allegations of impropriety.

The highest-profile resignation is François Bayrou’s, the justice minister and leader of the centrist Democratic Movement (MoDem). His party, which groups with Macron’s in the National Assembly, stands accused of misusing European parliamentary funds.

Bayrou’s endorsement of Macron during the presidential election was seen as a turning point. Had Bayrou run on his own, he could have split the centrist vote in the first round and prevented Macron from qualifying for the runoff against Le Pen.

Two more MoDems — Sylvie Goulard, the defense minister, and Marielle de Sarnez, Europe minister — have stepped down.

Richard Ferrand, a former Socialist, has been moved out of government pending a separate investigation into nepotism.

Blessing in disguise

It’s not an auspicious start for Macron, who campaigned on a promise to clean up French politics. His closest allies are now embroiled in just the type of scandal that sank the presidential hopes of his Republican rival, François Fillon.

Yet it may be a blessing in disguise.

Arthur Goldhammer, an American expert in French politics, argues that, “without wielding the knife himself,” the new president has rid himself of a potential troublemaker:

Bayrou was already acting like a man who imagined himself to possess more power than he actually had. He had exacted a significant price for his support, more deputies than the weight of his party merited.

The 42 MoDems in parliament still matter, but Macron doesn’t need them for a majority.

Shift to the right

Goldhammer expects that the balance of power in government will shift to the right:

We do not yet know who will replace Bayrou, Sarnez and Goulard, but the choice will say a lot about the future direction of the Philippe government.

Édouard Philippe, the prime minister, and Bruno Le Maire, the economy minister, are both liberal Republicans. The only remaining leftwingers in the cabinet are Gérard Collomb, the interior minister, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the foreign minister.