Macron has six months

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The European elections next May will be something of a mid-term contest in France and the signs do not look good for President Emmanuel and his En Marche party.

An opinion poll this week for the first time put Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National Party, formerly the National Front, ahead of En Marche. The far-right party’s leadership is reportedly much encouraged by US President Donald Trump’s strong Senate showing in America’s mid-term vote. Analysis shows that Trump once again successfully drummed up poor working class, less educated voters, that once slumbering section of the electorate which has missed out on the boom years, seeing wages kept low while manufacturing relocated abroad. The fabulous wealth of the speculators and investment bankers who suffered little from the financial crash that they did so much to bring about, still causes many ordinary Americans to grind their teeth in rage.

France has a less dramatic gap between rich and poor. However, an historic distrust of state institutions and governments is rooted in the recognition that France’s rulers, known as “Le Pouvoir” — “The Power” normally drawn from the elite Ecoles Normales universities, have always assumed that they alone know what is best for the ordinary man in the street.

Le Pen and her racist party, like other rabble-rousing far-right political groupings in Europe, have played to this popular feeling of disenfranchisement. They have tailored their message and their policies to the idea that somehow the little man can take back control of his own destiny, most particularly in relation to the EU. Le Pen’s antipathy to Brussels is effectively a movement for Frexit. And were France to quit the European Union, the whole project would be dead in the water.

In one respect Macron has made Le Pen’s Eurosceptic case easier to argue, because he won the presidency two years ago on an avowedly pro-EU platform while accepting that the Union required changes. He also apparently received voters’ backing by promising widespread domestic reforms to the country’s fiscally unsustainable health, welfare and social security systems.

Yet it remains a moot point if Macron and his newly-created En Marche party were catapulted into power simply because French voters actually accepted the pressing economic need for his changes to their generous entitlements, or whether they actually chose Macron to avoid having Marine Le Pen in the Elysée Palace.

Macron’s imperial and arrogant style has damaged his reputation. So far his reforms are seen to have benefitted only the rich. In these circumstances, raising the cost of living for the ordinary voter while removing generous state-funded featherbedding does not seem wise. New fuel price hikes are likely to provoke the sort of lawless demonstrations by truckers and farmers that law officers have traditionally been so unwilling to confront and deal with.

With his personal poll rating dragging in the dirt, Macron urgently needs to review both his style and the way in which he is implementing his policies. At the moment he is the only alternative to the Islamophobic Le Pen. If he fails to win back voters from this woman he will also empower other far-right racist parties that have crawled from beneath stones elsewhere in Europe. He has just over six months to get it right.


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