Plagued by years of protests, now parliamentary defections over the Covid-19 virus has humbled Macron’s presidency and ultimately his legacy.
French President Emmanuel Macron's party, La Republique En Marche, has lost its absolute majority in the French National Assembly.
The move by seven parliamentarians to form a new group with a focus on environmental concerns, is a blow to Macron’s personal leadership as he attempts to deal with a France that has been badly hit by the pandemic.
Macron’s party has been plagued by defections in recent months with dissenters increasingly concerned that the president’s efforts to push through controversial pensions reforms have been doing more harm than good.
For a leader who once promised to rule as the Roman God of Jupiter, Macron seems uninterested by the trivialities of mundane politics.
The French President’s star power, however, has waned alongside his majority which has been whittled down from an initial 314, to 288, one short of a majority in the 577 national assembly.
Macron’s approval rating has benefited from a slight boost during the coronavirus crisis, but it firmly remains in the negative territory with more than 58 percent of people disapproving of the job he is doing.
The new political grouping is known as ‘Ecologie Democratie Solidarite’ and is composed of seventeen left-leaning members who are campaigning for a wealth tax and more environmentally-friendly political agendas that could emerge after the pandemic.
At a news conference, the co-leader of the new grouping, Paula Forteza, said: “We want this exit from the crisis to be marked by environmental and social justice, not by a purely economic or short-termist plan.”
A member of parliament that abandoned Macron’s party more than a year ago summarised the discontent many are facing within the party by saying, “There was a syndrome of us all being very well behaved because we didn’t want to cause problems for the government, but today there are lots of members of parliament who don’t want to play that role.”
Policies proposed by Forteza, including universal income payments to everybody over 18, stand in marked contrast to Macron’s political agenda which has been widely viewed as one which seeks to benefit the wealthy, sparking the Yellow Vest movement that has rocked Macron’s presidency.
Municipal elections in March resulted in Macron’s party, En Marche, which did not exist prior to 2017 and was running in their first elections, failing to achieve any noticeable gains with green and left-leaning parties making headway.
Macron’s insistence on holding local elections in March despite neighbouring countries Italy and Spain had announced lockdowns, may have exposed thousands of people to the virus.
A president humbled?
The coronavirus outbreak has wrought havoc in France with more than 180,000 infections and 28,000 deaths resulting in one of the most severe recessions since World War II.
Macron’s domestic, EU and global agenda have also been blown off course with his initial confidence in leading France and the world, largely losing steam.
The EU’s second-biggest economy saw its first coronavirus case in January. Macron’s government, by its own admission, has been one step behind and been criticised for underestimating the severity of the pandemic.
A recent poll found that 66 percent of people thought the government has “failed to rise to the challenge” and a further 77 percent believing Macron’s handling “failed to make the right decisions at the right time.”
For a leader who has gone toe-to-toe with US President Donald Trump, the virus has been a humbling experience and one which has forced Macron to be uncharacteristically introspective.
Going forward, Macron is likely to spend significant political capital to salvage his domestic agenda.
Macron’s emphatic rhetoric has seen him speak of the “special relationship” he shares with Trump only to fail to stave off the collapse of the Iran nuclear agreement and to bring the US back into the fold after it left the Paris climate change agreement.
In a recent interview, Macron announced that the virus is an opportunity for the world to reinvent itself and its methods, but the question remains whether Macron can reinvent himself.
Macron’s handling of the pandemic which has scared France socially and economically, may prove to be the legacy he never wanted attached to his name.