Green wave forces course correction by Macron

French President faces several challenges


June 30, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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Emmanuel Macron has his back to the wall

Greens spring surprise in Sunday’s municipal election and could pose a strong challenge in the next presidential election slated for 2022.

It was with a mind-numbing landslide that Emmanuel Macron had won the French presidential elections three years ago. Within weeks, the youngest-ever President of the country followed up with a complete sweep of the parliamentary elections, even though his rag tag party was still in the formation stage and lacked offices and people to run the electoral campaign.

Adorned with sobriquets like Jupiter, the French President could do no wrong, at least in the eyes of the French citizens, who continued to support his government and his initiatives that he said were a continuum of his electoral promises that basically centred around the fact that Macron and his party were seen as outsiders and not the run of the mill politicians that the voters had gotten immensely tired of and which was the main reason they had handed Macron and his team the huge, unprecedented mandate.

Macron continued to rule the roost for about 18 months, but then he began to stumble. His move in the fall of 2018 to increase fuel prices, due to imposition of carbon tax to reduce consumption of fossil fuels backfired massively and led to the infamous Yellow Vests movement that saw hundreds of thousands of ordinary French citizens take to the streets to protest against the added burden. It did not help that Macron had removed wealth tax a few months earlier and the opposition labelled him as the Bankers’ President.

The Yellow Vest protests continued for well nearly a year and the government was forced to roll back the tax in the first public humiliation for Macron. Yet, within the Parliament and in the political world, Macron continued to rule the roost in the absence of any strong political adversaries as the two traditional parties of France – the Socialists and the Republicans that had alternately governed the nation for over 70 years after the World War II – were decimated entirely, leaving the far right leader Marine Le Pen the only opposition leader with some clout.

It was in the European Parliament elections late last year that Macron’s party turned out its first mediocre performance and that was also the time when signs of a potentially strong opposition became evident. The coalition of various Green parties got their best ever results and not just in France, but across the EU.

Over the past six months, however, the green ripples seem to have become a tidal wave as the Greens won several large cities across the country, breaking the hold of the traditional rivals Socialists and the Republicans. The Greens now control, for the first time ever, cities as diverse as Strasbourg and Lyon in the east, Marseille in the south and Bordeaux in west.

So, ironically, Macron who had first tasted public humiliation at the hands of the Yellow Vest movement for imposing a ‘green’ tax on fossil fuels now finds himself challenged by parties who advocate much harsher green measures including a phase out of nuclear power and sharply increasing funding for a green economy.

With under two years to go for the next presidential election, Macron needs to take urgent steps first to rebuild his party which singularly failed to win any big city in the elections and which was riven with internal disputes and whose morale must be at an all-time low after the poor performance in the municipal elections.

The second and perhaps more crucial step would be for Macron to build a real base for his party all over the country, including the capital Paris, where again his party was trounced to the third place with barely 13 pc of the votes as against over 48 pc for the incumbent Socialist mayor and nearly 34 pc for the coalition of centre-right parties.

But perhaps the toughest task for Macron, or for that matter any leader currently in power in any country, would be to steer France out of the coronavirus pandemic at the earliest and with the least possible pain. He will also have to ensure that the government assistance reaches out to the poorest and most vulnerable parts of the French society and that the measures taken by him to revive the economy and promote job creations actually work and deliver results within a year at most.

And an equally challenging task would be for Macron to convince a traumatised and divided society, with various sections whose interests lie at odds with each other and each feeling left behind and ignored by the government, that he is the best hope to restore former glory that France had enjoyed. Macron had won his first term on that promise. Chances are slim that the voters would grant him a second chance unless they see not just a potential of fulfilling the promise, but also whether ‘Jupiter’ is sincere and had made the right kind of efforts in his first term.

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