The clock is ticking for Emmanuel Macron. He has under two years of his presidential mandate to carry out his programme, much of which has been in suspended animation since before even Covid. In reality, it is much less than two years if one subtracts campaigning for the presidentials in May-June 2022, or even the regional and departmental elections in March 2021.
With a forelock tipped to Napoleon, the media are calling it his ‘500 days’, or more cerebrally In Search of Lost Time. Never in the history of the 5th Republic has one of its eight presidents spent so much time crisis managing. With two thirds of his mandate gone and half of that spent fire-fighting (yellow-vests, pension strikes, coronavirus) time is his most precious commodity.
Add to that Macron’s opinion poll rating that stays stubbornly below 40 per cent, second round municipal elections this weekend, where Macron’s En Marche party will score badly, and a prime minister – not of Macron’s party – with a poll rating of 54 per cent who is increasingly perceived as a rival. With talk of a ministerial reshuffle in the offing for months, prime minister Edouard Philippe has decided to stand for the mayoralty of Le Havre – where he is favourite – as an insurance policy.
Then throw into the mix two brewing scandals. One revealed this week in which a fraud investigation was reopened into Macron’s chief of staff following revelations that last summer the president wrote a personal note whitewashing his closest collaborator to authors of an incriminating police report. The police then dropped the case. This is explosive because constitutionally he was breaching the separation of powers and because as president he is the guarantor of the independence of the judiciary.
The second arises from the trial of former right-wing prime minister François Fillon and his British wife charged with misappropriation of public funds and whose verdict will be given on Monday. On the face of it this has nothing to do with Macron as the alleged offences occurred before his presidency began in 2017. However, on 10 June one of France’s most senior investigating magistrates (now retired) who was in charge of the Fillon case, revealed to a parliamentary select committee that her judicial hierarchy had put her under considerable pressure in preparing the case. This is shocking, not merely because the president and minister of justice in 2017 were socialists, but because François Fillon was the right-wing favourite to win the 2017 presidential elections.
This adds grist to his claim that he was the subject of a political conspiracy to deprive him of the presidency by putting him under investigation during the presidential campaign. So where does Macron come in? Because in the first round of the 2017 presidential elections Macron scored 24 per cent, Marine Le Pen 21 per cent and Fillon 20 per cent. Fillon was therefore eliminated from the second round. For some analysts in a run-off between Macron and Fillon, instead of Marine Le Pen, Fillon would have become president. For Macron’s political detractors – who are legion – this undermines his legitimacy. Whether or not François Fillon’s lawyers are successful in re-opening the trial, it is a further blot on Macron’s presidency.
Before this succession of particularly unhelpful events, a poll for the presidentials by Ifop-Fiducia put Macron and Marine Le Pen jointly on 28 per cent after the first round. The poll gave Macron as winner of the second round, but on a reduced score of 55 per cent rather than the 66 per cent he won in 2017. Despite declaring in his last television broadcast that he was going to re-invent himself and reset his political programme, time is against him. And the omens are bad with the most recent IMF predictions suggesting the French economy could shrink in 2020 by 12.5 per cent - (Italy and Spain – 12.8 per cent, UK – 10.2 per cent), unemployment spiralling, labour and social unrest already brewing.
With so many forces arraigned against him, one cannot but help feel a degree of compassion for Emmanuel Macron confronting these ‘500 days’. Should one admire his courage in the face of such grinding adversity? The man who only had a ‘100 days’ gave us a clue: ‘The most desirable quality in a soldier is constancy in the support of fatigue; valour is only secondary’. Macron has the stamina. But as his illustrious predecessor discovered only too well, that alone does not guarantee victory.