French Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot surprisingly resigned last Tuesday, saying that he felt alone in promoting ecology-related goals and could not pretend that his presence in the government helped to promote environment objectives. Shortly after, the country's Sports Minister Laura Flessel resigned for "personal reasons," but the media reported the move was prompted by a tax inquiry.
Flessel's stepping down reportedly over her failure to declare tens of thousands of euros has affected Macron, whose image as a "different president" has already been compromised by a scandal involving his former security aide, Alexandre Benalla, caught on camera hitting a protester during the May Day demonstrations in Paris, Dr. Paul Smith, professor in French politics at the University of Nottingham, told Sputnik.
"These things are very embarrassing; it’s very difficult to square those things, so the minister has to go… It doesn't help the image very much. But I think that this 'clean hands' image [of Macron] is gone with the Benalla affair," Smith said.
According to Daniel Boy, a senior researcher at the CEVIPOF political think tank, the French people cannot stand the tiniest flaw in a minister and are getting ever less tolerant to ministers' mistakes.
Hulot, one of the most popular ministers of the cabinet, was a vital asset for Macron due to the former minister's ambition to change things and little interest in building a political career, Boy said.
"Normally the government reshuffle is a consequence of a political problem, political failure. One tries to renew the government so that it better corresponds to what public opinion demands. But that’s not the case now. The problem is a resignation of a major minister … Hulot was an interesting spoils of war for Macron, because he is very popular," Boy explained.
Hulot resigned because he felt that France did not advance on environmental issues while he was in office and was replaced by someone "more political," newly-appointed Ecology Minister Francois de Rugy, the expert said.
"That is much easier for Macron as well, de Rugy wanted to become minster for a long time. He has a real ambition to be a minister, while Hulot didn’t have a clear political ambition. So de Rugy will stay, even though the environmental politics will remain unchanged, he is not really an ecologist," Boy added.
Dr. Smith agreed that Hulot’s resignation was a blow for the president.
"It’ll be a disappointment for Macron that Nicolas Hulot is gone … It was seen by the French public as a considerable blow. Nicolas Hulot is someone who has a great deal of public confidence, and [his resignation] has not done Macron’s image very much good… It’s not something that Macron would have wanted." the expert said.
With Hulot gone, it becomes increasingly evident that France is not living up to the model-state it pretends to be in fighting climate change, Anne Bringault, an NGO coordinator at the French CLER network on energy transition, told Sputnik.
"Already on the national level we see that Macron’s popularity is in a free fall. And on the international level the image that he wanted to have – of a president advancing on climate – is falling apart," she said.
If Macron's rhetoric is not backed by action amid growing carbon dioxide emissions in France, the president's discourse will not be credible anymore, the expert said.
"Hulot with all the sincerity in his engagement tried to change things, in the agricultural sector, for example, in energetics, closing the nuclear sector. But we see that there is a strong blockage in these two sectors. The industrial lobby has the ear of the French Economy Ministry," Bringault concluded.
This is the second "exodus" of ministers since Macron took office 2017. In July last year, four ministers resigned within a week just a month after the new cabinet was formed.