Falling Popularity Won’t Keep Macron Up at Night

The French president has four years left. The opposition is divided.

Lars Løkke Rasmussen Emmanuel Macron
Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen is greeted by French president Emmanuel Macron outside the Elysée Palace in Paris, June 9, 2017 (Elysée)

Emmanuel Macron’s popularity has fallen to its lowest point yet, with only one in four French voters supporting him anymore.

It probably won’t keep the president up at night. He still has four years left for his reforms to start bearing fruit while there is no unified opposition against him.

Public-sector strike

In the short term, it doesn’t help that tens of thousands of public-sector workers have gone on strike, interrupting air and rail traffic.

They oppose Macron’s reforms:

  • Taking management of France’s €32 billion professional training scheme out of the hands of unions and business groups;
  • Capping the damages judges can award to workers who have been wrongfully terminated at one month’s pay for every year of employment;
  • Enabling employers to bypass union-dominated workers’ councils;
  • Ending automatic pay rises and early retirement at the state rail company; and
  • Cutting agricultural subsidies;

However, in each case, business-friendly reforms are offset by measures that benefit unions and workers:

  • Giving unions more clout in deciding working hours and pay at the company level;
  • Raising the compensation for workers who are laid off for legitimate economic reasons by 25 percent;
  • Extending unemployment insurance to freelancers;
  • Applying changes only to new, not current, railway workers; and
  • Investing €5 billion to kickstart a “cultural revolution” in farming.

In this way, Macron has won the support of both pragmatic trade unions and business groups, much like his political party, En Marche, brings together the center-left and the center-right.

Plenty of time

The mainstream left and right have been vanquished. Macron’s strongest foes are Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the far left and Marine Le Pen on the far right. Neither is acceptable to the broad middle of French voters.

And Macron has four years left in his mandate, which explains why he doesn’t seem too worried about his ups and downs in the polls.

The president told Le Point magazine last year that his popularity will recover once the reforms start bearing fruit. “I’m going to have to live for months with the people’s impatience,” he predicted.