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    French President Emmanuel Macron listens as Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo delivers her speech during a ceremony at the Hotel de Ville in Paris, France, May 14, 2017.

    Macron's First 100 Days as President: Approval Plummeting, Optimism Fading

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    On May 7, Emmanuel Macron won the French Presidency in one of the biggest landslides in the country's democratic history. His victory was hailed by Western leaders old and new, heralded as an opportunity to revitalize the European Union and modernize the Fifth Republic. However, 100 days after Macron’s triumph, optimism already seems to be fading.

    Macron's presidential honeymoon may go down in history as one of France's briefest. A mere month after securing 65 percent of the vote in the Presidential election, Macron's fledgling En Marche! party (founded April 2016) itself won a small landslide in legislative elections, producing a rare occurrence in French politics — a president who enjoys an outright majority in parliament.

    However, just over three months after his triumph, Macronmania seems to have stuttered to a halt. Polling conducted by opinion research institute Ifop shows only 36 percent of voters in the country are satisfied with their president. Macron celebrates his first 100 days in office less popular than predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy (66 percent) and Francois Hollande (55 percent), both unpopular presidents who lasted but one term.

    The reasons for Macron's fall from grace are manifold.

    For one, the president — France's youngest ever — has repeatedly drawn criticism for his personal disposition. Most notoriously, he engaged in a bitter and personal public dispute with Pierre de Villiers, head of the French armed forces, provoking his resignation.

    Macron and the Public Sector

    However, the president's radical reform agenda has already proven exceedingly contentious. After years of violating eurozone rules in a number of areas, Macron is keen for the country to fall back in line. This will necessitate dragging down France's budget deficit, and reducing borrowing, which the president hopes to achieve via cuts to the defense budget, social programs and grants for French regions.

    France's pension and unemployment structures, sacred cows for so long, will also be "restructured," although Macron has delayed this portion of his plan until 2018.

    As Sarkozy and Hollande found out to their cost — it may well have been their ultimate undoing — slashing public sector and welfare spending is deeply unpopular in France, with even modest reforms having a tendency to produce violent protests. So it proved when Macron's first two reforms — a five euro reduction of housing subsidies per month, and an increase in compulsory social security contributions — were passed. While seemingly modest, thousands took to the streets of major French cities to voice their frustration.

    Still, the president is arguably doing better than his predecessors managed, and he faces much weaker opposition than they did. He has sought to involve trade unions directly in reform projects, and En Marche! lacks the doubting voices and opposition figures that helped derail Sarkozy and Hollande's ambitions.

    Furthermore, Macron has sought to soften the blow from cuts to public expenditure with cuts to elite political benefits — many privileges for parliamentarians, including special pension and unemployment insurance benefits, have been cut too, and elected officials of every stripe in France are now banned from employing family members as staff. With an absolute majority in parliament, the measures will likely be easy to pass. How the public will respond, and the impact this will have on Macron, are separate questions.

    Polls suggest around two-thirds of voters oppose the reforms that have been mooted so far. That Macron has concurrently sought to curtail politicians' own privileges is evidently not viewed as an adequate trade-off.

    Eurozone Reform

    Macron's reform program doesn't only place him on a collision course with the French public. His plans to reform the eurozone have proven controversial in other European capitals, most notably Berlin. Macron promised in his presidential program to establish a dedicated eurozone parliament, budget and finance minister. Such proposals were not welcomed by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble.

    For one, post-Brexit, Brussels in general, and Germany in particular, are extremely wary of euroskeptic populism — the argument Brussels calls the shots in member states and not their parliaments has been a compelling one for many voters in recent years. Macron's proposed eurozone structure, which would obliterate any remaining illusions of national budgetary independence, would play straight into populists' hands.

    Moreover, such changes would require a treaty to achieve, necessitating a large-scale negotiation process and unanimous agreement from all EU member states. Given the present state of the EU, collective harmony on any issue seems highly improbable. Analysts at the European Policy Center have expressed doubts about Macron's eurozone reform agenda, noting even individually the changes would be "politically difficult," and other EU partners have "alternative priorities" such as migration and security.

    Macron rounds out his first three and some months in office in an invidious position — the leader hailed by Europeans as the anti-Donald Trump, is now as popular in France as Trump is within the US. Most troublingly for the former investment banker, the most difficult reforms are yet to come.

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    Tags:
    100 days, trade deals, labor code, presidency, French Presidential Election 2017, French Presidency (Elysee), Emmanuel Macron, Francois Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy, Paris, France
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