PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron announced Tuesday morning a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle, largely as an attempt to stabilize a historic decline in popularity and an increasing sense of political isolation.
For almost two weeks, after a series of surprising resignations after the summer, France had no full government. Each of them was a major blow to Macron's image in public and his ability to govern effectively. But on Tuesday, the 40-year-old president announced a new list of names under pressure.
The changes were not extensive, causing many to wonder why the announcement took so long. The decisions were not entirely unpredictable: Christophe Castaner, who led Macron's political party, was appointed Minister of the Interior, overseeing national security, one of the most important in the French government. While Macron also named new culture and agriculture ministers, other important posts remained unchanged.
The news was able to suppress little panic in the Élysée.
"He won with a mix of luck, intuition and audacity – today he is less fortunate and he has made some notable mistakes," said Gilles Finchelstein, the director of the Jean Jaures Foundation, a think tank in Paris with ties to the Socialist Party, but also to Macron's campaign.
There are indeed signs that Macron's luck is fading – once seemingly bottomless. For example, in recent weeks, his government has seen two high-profile resignations that took the young president by surprise.
In late August, Nicolas Hulot, his hugely popular environmental minister and former TV personality, announced he was leaving the government on a live radio broadcast. Hulot accused Macron of disconnecting between Macron's words and his actions on climate change, which made Macron one of his main political commitments, in a series of major and far-reaching speeches.
"Did we start using pesticides? The answer is no," said Hulot during this broadcast. "Have we started to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? The answer is no, or stop the erosion of biodiversity? No."
Gerard Collomb, France's Interior Minister, resigned in September, but arguably with even more harsh criticism. Collomb, 71, attacked what he called Macron's "lack of humility." In a television interview in early September, he used the language of antiquity to portray Macron as a tragic hero.
"Hubris, it's the curse of the gods," Collomb said, "if you someday become too sure of yourself that you think you'll take everything away."
More than a year after his presidency becomes Macron – seen from abroad – is still often seen as an antithesis to President Trump: the young, photogenic French President, only 40 years old, is a globalizer who is violently condemned nationalist and populist, committed to a stronger European integration and again and again has called for action against climate change and sometimes in perfect English [19659014AboutMacronsImageHouseholdthatofallandanothertimeinFrankreichMacronaleinamonarchicalfairclassisunderstoodofthesecondCommunityAncienRegimarket
In a way, this is a par for the course: The French always turn against their presidents, especially on their five years in office. Macron was elected to a wave of optimism in May 2017, and almost 18 months later, the glitz of virtually every other French president has passed. The difference, however, is that Macron's once-sky-high popularity has now dropped to a lower level than any of its three predecessors. Few have gone so high and so far.
According to a survey by IFOP, a leading French pollster, Macron's popularity is currently at 29 percent, down sharply from the 34 percent it had in August. The survey was based on a survey of 1,964 people. When Macron was elected in 2017, his approval rating was 66 percent, more than twice his current rating.
For Jérôme Fourquet, a Paris-based political scientist and director of the IFOP, part of the explanation is close: surveys fell significantly over the summer, from 40 percent in June to 29 percent in September, partly due to the August fallout on the "Benalla affair," in which a member of Macron's security detail stood in front of the camera, beating demonstrators of labor reform.
Benalla wore police uniforms without permission, and the Élysée tried to cover up the scandal. Macron, Fourquet said, had championed "the promise of a model republic" and promised a "break" between "the old world of politics and a new, transparent and fair world." But the Benalla affair said his presidency was business as usual.
There is a reality that many ordinary French voters call Macron "the president of the rich" and find him out of control and even arrogant. For example, in September, Macron told a young unemployed gardener that he just had to cross the street to find a job in a café or restaurant. "If I crossed the street, I would find one," Macron said.
"He has not really changed since he took office, and the same discourse does not work in the same way, because he is now President of the Republic," Finchelstein said, referring to Macron's rhetoric.
"He was direct before, he was different from the others, now he is arrogant, the French no longer see him the same way now that he is president, all this creates a distance."
There are also the specific concerns of ordinary voters. Unemployment in France has not dropped significantly under Macron and is currently at 8.9 percent. In September, Macron unveiled an 8 billion euro program to fight poverty in France, but critics said the measure – which was announced more than a year after Macron's term – was not a real priority.
"After a year, It's the moment to do something," Fourquet said. "There is perception among many voters, it's time. And he did not do much better than the others."
Watch [More than a month ago] Macron's security adviser attacks a demonstrator