Emmanuel Macron won the 2017 French Presidential Election because he was portrayed as a sensible alternative to the left and the right. But many French citizens now perceive him as out of touch with the average person. Some have dubbed him as the ‘President of the rich.’ Macron’s image has been tarnished by several political blunders, which include dismissing an unemployed man’s problems in a video that went viral. It was also revealed that he spent around £23,000 on make-up during the first three months of his presidency, as well as ordering 1,200 plates worth hundreds of thousands of euros.
Instead of bridging the gap between the left and the right, the French President has only alienated them. 100,000 protesters took to the streets last October to oppose new economic policies that would see some people suffering cuts to their monthly support. Left-wing leaders accused him of ‘destroying France’s social model’, and labour unions are planning more demonstrations.
Macron has always used the EU as an opportunity to distract France from growing domestic issues, but even this tactic failed miserably during this year’s European elections. As Hugo Drochon of the New Statesman wrote, the French President took a gamble on transforming the elections into a referendum on himself, hoping he can beat the more extreme Marine Le Pen, and he lost. Le Pen’s National Rally, led by Jordan Bardella, arrived first with 23 per cent of the vote, just one percentage point ahead of Macron’s La Republique En Marche (LREM), at 22 per cent.
His inability to tackle both rising Euroscepticism and domestic issues, and the failure of his fellow European elites to reform the EU, has had consequences across the Continent. The European Alliance of People and Nations, which consists of parties like the National Rally, has won 71 seats. This has deprived the two main groupings, the centre-right European People’s Party and the centre-left Socialist and Democratic Alliance, of less than fifty per cent of all sitting MEPs.
However, this presents an opportunity for the French President. The Liberal Alliance, the grouping which Macron’s LREM belongs to, is now the third largest group in the European Parliament. He wants to use this as a chance to form a ‘progressive alliance’ with social democrats such as Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa, and centre-right parties such as the Spanish Cuidadanos (Citizens). This is where Macron may find France’s influence at an EU level has strengthened because of the recent elections.
Bloomberg reported that European conservatives are angry that the French President blocked their candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, Manfred Weber, at last week’s Brussels summit. Germany is determined to stop France from thwarting their bid for the presidency. Chancellor Merkel signalled that Weber’s bid may not have much of a future. None of the main groupings’ three candidates have produced a majority.
The French President told reporters the process may have to be restarted. This shows he has prevented Merkel from dominating European proceedings and taken advantage of the weakened position her EPP group finds itself in. It also means the Liberal Alliance’s candidate has a chance to win the presidency of the European Commission and strengthen their influence at an EU level. As a result, Macron could soon become the most powerful man in Europe.
Although the French President has been an utter failure at home, the European elections have provided him with an opportunity to enhance his stature abroad. For the first time in the EU’s history, France is calling the shots in Brussels. This is an embarrassing way for Merkel to end her chancellorship. But the ‘Emperor of Europe’, as the Daily Express once called Macron, may have finally found his clothes.