Since June, Emmanuel Macron has been regarded as a French version of the American “lame duck.” It is his second and, at least now it seems, last term in office because he will not be allowed to run again in the 2027 elections. When he entered the big league on the political stage six years ago, he was a young, brash man with bold ambitions for France and Europe.
During his first term, the yellow vest crisis and then the pandemic threw a wrench in the works. The second term is proving even more difficult. Not only has he lost his majority in parliament, he has also had to face the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine, the energy crisis, and spiraling inflation; these challenges make the first term seem like a harmless warm-up for the currrent domestic and foreign policy triathlon. Many are already asking what political legacy the once-ambitious president will leave behind.
On the international stage, Macron may still cut a fine figure, but domestically in France, he looks weaker than ever.
“I have no intention of losing my authority within six months,” Macron assured a small circle of his most important ministers at a recent dinner at the Elysée Palace. The only question is how he can succeed.
On the budget, his head of government has failed. Next year, she wants to push through a pension reform that could raise the retirement age by two to three years. This was already high on Macron’s agenda in 2017. The president argues fairness between generations, but recent polls show that the majority of French people stubbornly refuse to retire at 64, or possibly 65, like other Europeans.
“Halloween of public finances”
The recent budget debate revealed that right-wing and left-wing populists are much closer than they claim. Whereas before the summer break, MPs from the left-green Nupes had refused to play a joint soccer match with their right-wing populist colleagues, they are now forming an unheard-of alliance.
On both the right and the left, Macron is being labeled “the president of the rich.” The budget of €490 billion (2.6 percent less than the previous year) has been criticized as inadequate, which is why 3,349 amendments have been tabled. Across political parties, there were also calls to tax excess profits, make higher-earners pay more, or reintroduce the wealth tax.
Before the summer recess, Macron and his government team had invoked the German culture of compromise, but there is no sign of that anymore. In view of the blockade in parliament, the president is now threatening dissolution and new elections.
It is quite possible that this is just a political bluff, as polls suggest that the right-wing populists, in particular, would benefit. It is most certainly a means of exerting pressure on the liberal-conservatives. The 62 deputies from The Republicans (LR) know that after new elections, they would have even fewer seats.