Oct 6th, 2018, 12:31 AM

Paris is Burning: Is the Macron Presidency Going Down?

By Anthony Bosese-Kama
French President Emmanuel Macron at the Palace of Versailles. Image Credit : Wikimedia Commons/Vicomte56
Tension is at its height in the French government as the Interior Minister resigns, the seventh in only 15 months of presidency.

The more months that pass by, the more resignations that accumulate. On Tuesday 2 October, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb decided to leave office, arguing that he needs to prepare for the local elections in his former town of Lyon, located in south-eastern France, where he used to be mayor.

This has created a genuine political crisis that will not go unnoticed. Mr. Collomb was in charge of security and order and was the second most important figure of the Government, right after the Prime Minister, with the rank of first “Senior Minister”. He was also one of Emmanuel Macron’s closest and most loyal allies and supported him since the beginning of his presidential race, becoming a pillar of his political movement La Republique En Marche (LREM). This political earthquake occurred just a few weeks after the blaring Benalla affair, where Emmanuel Macron’s former deputy chief of staff impersonated a police officer and beat up a protester during a Parisian demonstration last May. But it especially occurs, once again, after six previous ministers decided to step down from their positions in only 15 months of the Macron presidency.

The whirlwind began just a month after Macron’s assumption of office. First, Minister for Territorial Cohesion Richard Ferrand was forced to resign after he found himself compromised by accusations of conflicts of interest, nepotism, and breach of trust. It then continued with three of the French state’s four sovereign ministerial portfolios. Minister of the Armed Forces Sylvie Goulard, Minister of European Affairs Marielle de Sarnez and Senior Minister of Justice Francois Bayrou were all involved in a fictitious jobs scandal in June 2017. The three of them were allegedly accused of paying their party’s staff with the European Union money and forced to step down. All this led a struggling French government to reshuffle its cabinet and, not without difficulty, to maintain credibility.

“Collomb is jumping ship because he realized that if the situation continues like this, there will be no political future for any member of this government,” Professor Kobtzeff said.

However, it was not until summer 2018 that the French President’s ability to lead the country towards a prosperous and efficient change got seriously questioned following unpopular reforms, the Benalla Affair, the departures of Sports minister Laura Flessel under a serious investigations over tax offenses, and the popular Environmental Minister Nicolas Hulot

“Emmanuel Macron has spent all the credit of legitimacy that he had,” said Oleg Kobtzeff, Associate Professor of International and Comparative Politics at AUP and an environmental expert. “He was chosen by many voters as a lesser of two evils against Marine Le Pen. His reforms are bold but his program was presented as centrist. At present, they resemble very right-wing capitalist changes ala Margret Thatcher.” The environment was nonetheless one of Macron’s priorities for his term as he decided to grant Hulot the rank of second Senior Minister and often expressed his engagement for environmental issues on the global stage. Yet it did not always seem to be the case at home where Hulot was “seen as tolerating legislations and industrial projects – imposed by Macron – that were very harmful to the environment,” according to Professor Kobtzeff. 

“I have nothing to say about it,” Mr. Gabriel Attal, spokesperson of LREM, said when reached for comment.

The departure of the two remaining Senior ministers of his second cabinet was a major blow to the one who consistently promoted an 'exemplary republic'. Mr. Collomb’s and Mr. Hulot's resignations have nothing in common,“ adds Pierre Person, a prominent deputy of Paris for LREM and close friend of the President. “He just wants to go back to the city of Lyon that is dear to his heart and keep it under our party’s leadership. It is not a real political problem.” He continues, “Only three resignations occurred; the others simply left office due to a cabinet reshuffle.” When asked if Emmanuel Macron is still in control and whether his ministers don’t flee because of potential term failure, Person replied, “The presidential majority is all right and there is a governmental coherence inside the executive. We are still pushing the reforms that the French expect. Collomb’s departure changes nothing about that. There is no 'Macron boat sinking'.”

Professor Kobtzeff, nonetheless, gives a completely different analysis on the situation, “Collomb is jumping ship because he realized that if the situation continues like this, there will be no political future for any member of this government.” He then concludes, “I think Mr. Macron is going to try to survive but won’t be re-elected. The only way to get back up is to find another model of reform. Yet, if these austerity measures continue, it will lead to a disaster and to a greater rise of extremism.”

A looming government reshuffle is likely to take place on Tuesday 9 October or during the following days.