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Media Concerned 'Sun King 2.0' Macron Risks Going Down Path of Authoritarianism

© AFP 2022 / CHARLES PLATIAU / POOLFrench President Emmanuel Macron takes part in an official ceremony at Paris' city hall after his formal inauguration as French President on May 14, 2017 in Paris
French President Emmanuel Macron takes part in an official ceremony at Paris' city hall after his formal inauguration as French President on May 14, 2017 in Paris - Sputnik International
After his victory in last year's presidential election, Emmanuel Macron was hailed as a defender of liberal values against nationalism and authoritarianism. However, amid the so-called Benalla affair, observers reevaluating ruling style are saying that Macron may be turning into a modern-day King Louis XIV.

The Benalla affair, involving presidential security aide Alexandre Benalla, who was caught illegally beating protestors at this year's May Day demonstrations, reached a crescendo last week as France's National Assembly debated two no-confidence motions against the Macron government.

Although the government survived, thanks to support from Macron's La Republique En Marche party, which enjoys a comfortable majority of seats in the French lower house, pundits and lawmakers both in France and abroad believe the affair, and particularly the presidential administration's effort hush it up, will become a major blot on Macron's presidency at least, and at most could culminate in his political downfall.

Emmanuel Macron, presidente de Francia - Sputnik International
Macron's Approval Rating Hits Record Low in Light of Benalla Scandal - Poll
However, liberal Sweden's Dagens Nyheter newspaper believes the problem isn't the affair itself or even Macron's initial nonchalant reaction to it, but how the scandal serves to illustrate a contradiction to everything the French leader claims to stand for. 

In May 2017, the paper wrote, the freshly-elected President presented himself as a "torch of Europe," the man at the helm of both France, with its rich history, and of Europe, and their 'common, liberal future'.

Just over a year later, his government was facing the risk of being toppled. The no confidence measures may have been formally addressed toward the government, but were really aimed at the "sovereign," i.e. Macron, who "was accused of the typical royal sin — arrogance," according to Dagens Nyheter.

The newspaper doesn't believe that the failed no confidence measures will develop into anything more, given that the En Marche! Party, or more accurately, Macron's "personal election campaign machine," could easily block any block any such initiatives. "However, the debate, both inside and outside the National Assembly, serves as a warning signal for both Macron and the liberal-oriented, pro-EU part of Europe, which had seen his presidency as the bulwark against Brexiters, nationalists and Putinists."

A picture taken on October 11, 2016 shows then French presidential election candidate for the En Marche! movement Emmanuel Macron (R) and Head of Security Alexandre Benalla (2ndR) arriving for a campaign meeting in Le Mans, western France - Sputnik International
Macron to Be Handicapped by Benalla Scandal Till End of His Term – Politician
In France, Macron has been accused of being a "liberal strongman," and compared with both Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle. However, in the eyes of some observers, the Benalla affair deserves a comparison to Louis XIV, the so-called 'Sun King' who ruled France with an iron fist and paid little heed to the 'commoners'. Macron, Dagens Nyheter noted, has created the equivalent to his own Versailles, a courtyard where he shines like the Sun and does not bother with the opinions of mere mortals.

The Benalla case, according to Dagens Nyheter, is a perfect illustration of the reality that the French President "uses the maxim that the rules don't apply to [the royal court's] musketeers."

Ultimately, the paper argues, "no matter how attractive and important Macron's role as defender of progressive values may seem, it must be remembered that he owes his success to the defeat of France's traditional party politics. It is extremely disturbing that liberal Europe now attaches its hopes to the same political archetype on which the offensive of the authoritarians and nationalists is built – a charismatic, strong leader," the paper concludes.

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