When Emmanuel Macron was elected, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief as fears of Marine Le Pen’s right-wing wave and her promise to exit the European Union dissipated. Today, however, Macron is facing approval ratings as low as 26 percent, perpetual protests (the latest of which are the ongoing yellow vest demonstrations), and growth of the wave of anti-globalist populism that his platform had sought to prevent. The general discontent and anger toward Macron are a response to the economic stagnation that his policies have failed to prevent and his blatant alienation of the working classes.
Much of the pushback against Macron’s economic policies stems from his administration’s failed attempts to support a struggling economy, which is forecasted to face sluggish economic growth in 2019. To assuage France’s economic ailments, Macron has almost exclusively attempted to pursue austerity measures by carrying out numerous deep cuts in social spending which have resulted in heated protests. For example, in March, Macron implemented large scale cuts to benefits for railroad workers, which led to mass demonstrations of up to 200,000 people as well as threats of a general strike among railroad workers.
In addition to his reduction of social welfare, Macron has also carried out numerous tax overhauls, albeit with glaring discrepancies in their applications. His unequal tax policy has contributed the most to the French perception of Macron as “the president of the rich.” Perhaps his most publicized tax cut was on the Solidarity Tax on Wealth, which has been in place since 1981 as a symbol of the French government’s recognition of wealth inequality in the country. Due to its symbolic importance to French citizens, Macron’s reduction of the tax cemented the people’s perception of him as a leader who caters to the wealthy.
Furthermore, Macron has increased taxes that directly affect the middle and working classes. Most recently, his “green fuel tax” has driven up fuel prices and directly led to the explosive yellow vest protests. Despite statements regarding the necessity of this tax increase for environmental reasons, it is important to note that only 7.2 billion out of the total 34 billion euros that the tax is expected to yield have been reserved for use for “environmental measures.” Macron’s tax inequalities are not just founded in perception; in fact, purchasing power has decreased for the bottom 5 percent of French households since Macron took office. These measures have had such a dramatic effect upon the French working classes due to the lasting legacy of the post-war European model of a welfare-based economic system.
Another of Macron’s painful grievances against the working class is his deregulatory approach to employment creation and economic growth. In an attempt to reduce structural unemployment and make France more attractive to employers, Macron made it easier for businesses to fire workers where a difficulty to do so previously had deterred business investments in France. While this did bring in important high-level employers such as Amazon and Google, lower skill employers already in France took the opportunity to carry out large scale employment cuts. Despite the inevitable wave of discontent this prompted, Macron justified the change by saying he had helped France transition from a low-skilled economy to a high-skilled one and therefore a more competitive one.
Macron’s misguided ambitions tend to emphasize technology and modernization despite the stagnation being experienced by France’s core infrastructure and larger industries. For example, Macron made an investment of $1.8 million in artificial intelligence despite an increasingly high unemployment rate in the manufacturing sector. This is a symptom of his fundamentally aloof view that modernization is akin to globalization rather than a progressive revitalization of lower level domestic sectors. Once again, it is from this ideological gap with the people of France that a perception of Macron as a “president of the elite” and as an enemy of the working class stems.
As Macron’s popularity plummets, the popularity of far-right elements in France has risen dramatically, to the extent that Marine Le Pen’s party polls ahead of Macron’s En Marche for the May 2019 parliamentary elections. In conjunction with the far right is a small but growing number of supporters of “Frexit,” or a French exit from the European Union, which would lead to more cracks in an organization already fractured by the Brexit decision. While his policies are intended in the long-term to usher in France’s position as a global center of commerce and technology, they also run the risk of Macron losing his presidency in 2022.
Therefore, Macron is in an especially dangerous position, as a failure to gain reelection could have disastrous results for globalism and the stability of Europe as a whole. In his place, leaders such as Marie Le Pen could easily come to power and implement more isolationist policies, to the extent of leaving the European Union. To prevent such a catastrophe, Macron must cast off his elitist cloak and listen to the demands of the working class. As such, he must focus more on fixing the problems at the root of the French economy rather than pursuing lofty notions of technological modernization and alienating a large sector of the population, if anything for the sake of maintaining the presidency and preventing a movement towards the far-right. If Macron continues to forge ahead without taking into account the protestations of citizens suffering from lax business regulations, unpopular taxes, and numerous austerity measures, he could prevent France from realizing the very long-term goals he is pushing with said policies.
Categories: Foreign Affairs