Isolated Macron braces for ‘revenge’ of French voters

Emmanuel Macron has taken many risks in a political career marked by countless crises, but his decision to call snap elections may be one too many, shattering his legacy and creating an era of extremes.

Tremors over Macron’s dissolution of the National Assembly after the centrist party suffered a crushing defeat in European elections remain strong, with even those close to the president admitting unease about the political upheaval.

“It is the president who killed the presidential majority,” said former prime minister Edouard Philippe, an ally of Macron.

The far-right National Rally (RN) is expected to win, giving Macron’s long-time rival Marine Le Pen’s party the premiership for the first time in a tense “collaboration”.

Macron’s popularity has plummeted to the point where allies are suggesting he take a back seat in the campaign, with Prime Minister Gabriel Attal leading the way.

For one of Macron’s most loyal supporters, there has been some discontent since his unexpected rise to the presidency.

“There is a desire to take revenge on politicians who hate his victory,” said François Patriot, head of the pro-Macron delegation in the upper house Senate.

Born in Amiens to two doctors, Macron met his future wife Brigitte when she was a teacher and 25 years his senior.

“He fell in love with his drama teacher when he was 16 and told her he was going to marry her, and then he married her. That was a very strong thing,” said a former classmate at the elite graduate school ENA.

Equally confident, he left former President Francois Hollande’s government in August 2016 to run for president, a risky move at the time.

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He founded the political movement En Marche (On the Move) with the same initials as its leader and won the presidential election in 2017 at the age of 39.

Macron, who called himself a “hopeless optimist”, later said he was able to overcome it because “France was unhappy and anxious”.

Confidence in the former Rothschild investment banker, who once promoted the “revolution” in his book, quickly soured on his economic policies once in office.

The former economy minister under a socialist government earned a reputation as a “president of the rich” when he announced early in his term that he would abolish taxes on high-income earners.

Then, last year, his move to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 sparked mass protests and reinforced the perception that Macron is out of touch with public opinion.

“There are a lot of people who think I’m arrogant. Early jokes haunt him, including one about the unemployed having to “cross the street” to find work.

Now 46, he firmly believes his economic track record speaks for itself, with France seen as Europe’s most attractive country for foreign investment and the country to end mass unemployment.

But for many, Macron’s promise of centrism has not withstood pressure from a wave of domestic and international crises — or from the far right.

The anti-government “yellow vest” movement, the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine are some of the challenges Macron has faced during his tenure.

Macron remains a dominant voice in European politics, even as his support at home grows stronger.

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Franco-German ecologist Daniel Cohn-Bendit said, “We shouldn’t joke. He is the best European of his time,” but Macron’s problem is that he is “convinced he is right”.

Macron has joined allies in providing support to Ukraine after Russia’s 2022 invasion, but he has angered many by continuing to engage with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two years later, the opposite is true as Macron refuses to rule out sending troops to Ukraine, a move criticized by other Western countries as an unnecessarily provocative move.

The late former mayor of Lyon, Gérard Collomb, was more direct in his criticism, calling it “arrogance” of Macron and a “lack of modesty” in government.

Part of the problem is the perception that Macron is increasingly isolated, a former adviser said.

“He doesn’t have a grassroots network… People around him are homogenous and they don’t reflect the mood of the times,” they added.

While the first lady is seen as a moderate figure, Macron has drifted to the right, with some accusing the president of opportunism.

On the evening of his 2017 victory, Macron vowed in front of the Louvre museum to do “everything” in his power to ensure that the French “no longer have any reason to vote for extremism”.

For many, however, the young centrist they voted for has shifted further and further to the right, opening the door to other extremes.

The same person inspired by the anti-capitalist slogan to win re-election in 2022, later adopted the words of far-right figure Eric Zemor, “France will remain France”.

For Le Pen, who sees an opportunity to become president in 2027, Macron “has a plasticity, an incredible self-confidence, which is his strength and his weakness.”

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A former special counsel sees that plasticity differently.

“He’s getting back to 2017 and humanistic values,” added Philippe Grancione, “no right-wing turn… the president is reversing the idea of ​​change”.

Macron rejects the criticism, saying he ultimately relies on himself. “You make tough decisions on your own,” he said.

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