French Allies Fear Macron's Gamble Could Lead to Disaster

Facing growing dissatisfaction at home and significant setbacks in recent elections, French President Emmanuel Macron's leadership is under intense scrutiny as he calls for emergency elections to regain political control

by Sededin Dedovic
French Allies Fear Macron's Gamble Could Lead to Disaster
© Pool / getty Images

Outside France, President Emmanuel Macron represents a polished, confident European statesman. Within France, he is increasingly seen as a liability, writes Politico. After Macron's bombshell decision to call for emergency elections following a significant defeat in the European Parliament elections, his allies fear he might lead them into disaster.

“You won’t see Macron’s face on my campaign posters, I can tell you that,” said a member of parliament belonging to the president's coalition. “The Élysée Palace hasn’t quite grasped the ‘anti-presidential’ sentiment in France,” said an official from Macron’s parliamentary group, who, like others in this story, was granted anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Polls show that the French view their president as arrogant and authoritarian, a lightning rod for anti-elite sentiments that have swirled amid numerous crises, such as the Yellow Vest protests and the COVID-19 pandemic, which have hit France in recent years.

His hesitation to change course in the face of widespread protests over pension reform last year has reinforced the view that he is aloof and out of touch, while his tone can come off as arrogant and elitist. On Sunday, this backlash crystallized at the ballot box.

The far-right National Rally finished first in the European Parliament elections in France with 31.4% of the vote, more than double the 14.6% that Macron’s party received. A poll conducted on election day showed that nearly half of the voters had one key objective: to "express their dissatisfaction with Emmanuel Macron and the government." In response to the defeat, Macron shocked Europe by dissolving the French parliament and calling for new national elections to regain the initiative and silence the far right.

The vote threatens not only to topple the French government but also to shake up European politics at a critical moment, given that Russia’s war in Ukraine is already deep into its third year.

Frances far-right party ‘Rassemblement National’ (RN) leader, Marine Le Pen© Thierry Chesnot / Getty Images

But not only is Macron unwelcome in his party Renaissance’s campaign, he is increasingly perceived as unpredictable, with accusations that he is out of touch and deluded.

While Macron sees the emergency elections as the only way to stem the far-right tide and rally mainstream voters from all sides behind him, there is fear in his own camp that the opposite could happen. “If the president makes his stance clear, it’s a huge risk,” said Matthieu Gallard, a research analyst at Ipsos.

“What’s certain is that if he gets involved, he will mobilize people against him”. Early polling indicates that Macron’s party could once again suffer a 'beating' as voters return to the polls for parliamentary elections in two rounds on June 30 and July 7.

There is a real prospect that the presidential coalition could even end up in third place behind the far right and potentially the left. For many allies and former supporters, Macron’s extraordinary self-confidence is now turning into a denial of reality, making him blind to the antipathy he generates.

The decision to go back to the polls is “a delusional act by a man knocked out by defeat,” said one former Élysée Palace official. Tensions within Macron’s supporting coalition are such that heavyweights are urging the French president to step back.

François Bayrou, a key ally and one of Macron’s early supporters, was at the Élysée Palace on Monday night to convey the message that Macron “must not get too involved in the campaign,” said a centrist lawmaker.

Bayrou has even discussed the necessary “demacronization” with his MPs, according to Politico sources. “The more he talks, the more we lose points in the polls,” said an adviser to an MP from Macron’s party.

This is an unprecedented shift in party dynamics for Renaissance. The French president’s party, which emerged with him, has long been dismissed as merely an echo chamber for Macron, which would not exist without him.

Although it is common for French presidents to lose their appeal, he is blamed for mishandling a series of crises, some of which were created by his government. Last year’s protests against pension reform, in which hundreds of thousands took to the streets to oppose raising the retirement age, did not move him.

Macron effectively ignored those voices, using constitutional means to pass the law without a vote in parliament. He is also widely seen as a president for the rich, not as a man drawn from the French populace to lead them.

He was an investment banker before entering politics, and some of his tax cut policies have fueled the belief that he is primarily concerned with helping big business billionaires like Bernard Arnault, head of LVMH, the world’s largest luxury goods company and one of the richest people on the planet.

There is also an issue with his presentation style. Macron’s eloquence sometimes does not work in his favor, often making him seem didactic, professorial, or patronizing.

Emmanuel Macron