French President Macron's Approval Takes A Dive
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
French President Emmanuel Macron keeps dropping in the polls. The latest polls show him down 14 points in August. He's at around 40 percent approval now, which is the lowest approval rating of any French president so soon after elections. We wanted to know how it is that someone who was hailed as the young and dynamic savior of France - and maybe even of the European Union - just three and a half months ago has lost so much popularity. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us now to help us understand what is going on.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.
CHANG: So you and I have talked before about Macron slipping in the polls since the election. But it just seems like there's been this sustained, downward slide now. Why is this happening?
BEARDSLEY: Well, you know, it's sort of a combination and an accumulation of things, you know. Yes, he and his party were hailed as this new beginning. But his new citizen parliamentarians that are now in the Congress - they're amateurs. They look amateur, and it's been a bit chaotic.
There was another thing. He cut a housing stipend that was for lower-income people. But it turns out, mostly students used it. He did that at the same time as he cut a wealth tax on the super wealthy. So that he did not go down well, and he went back on it. And then it was revealed that he had spent 30,000 euros in makeup in the last three months.
BEARDSLEY: Yeah, even though he's good looking already. And, you know, probably his biggest problem is he's been perceived as arrogant and imperious.
CHANG: Arrogant and imperious - what do you mean by that?
BEARDSLEY: Well, he's kept the media at arm's length. He doesn't speak to them very much. And he's also seemed authoritarian. Things started to turn around Bastille Day, on July 14, when he sort of dressed down - he publicly humiliated, you know, the head of the armed forces. It was a general who had questioned possible cuts to the military. Now that general ended up resigning. But people felt thought was no reason to pick a fight with the military, which is overworked since the terrorist attacks in France two years ago. And they're much beloved.
And, you know, people have appreciated his handling of diplomacy, like big meetings with leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump, so they have appreciated that. And I spoke with a pollster. He said, look, it's vacation time, and this drop in popularity has to be taken with a grain of salt. It's not based on anything too concrete. So pollster Bruno Jeanbart told me this.
BRUNO JEANBART: He still has a lot of, I would say, legitimacy, the president. He has the majority of the Parliament. We are going to see that very quickly with the reform of the job market, which is coming very soon. In the next six months or in next year, if he hasn't got some results on the economy and especially on the unemployment, it will become more and more difficult to reform the country.
CHANG: So what is Macron's plan for economic reform?
BEARDSLEY: Well, Ailsa, turning around France's decades-long high unemployment - hovers around 10 percent - is the centerpiece of his entire agenda for France and Europe in the next five years. He wanted to move quickly. He's starting by tackling the country's notoriously rigid labor laws to make it easier for companies to hire and fire.
He's passing the reforms this week by decree, avoiding any parliamentary debate. Looks like he's ready, though, because he's realized he's not popular. He hired a personal spokesman yesterday to represent him to bring him closer to the people. And guess what - he got a dog.
CHANG: A dog.
BEARDSLEY: The French first couple adopted a 2-year-old mixed black lab, so a mutt, who was a stray. And Nemo, who looks like a friendly guy, has already made his appearance with his master on the front steps of the presidential palace.
CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thank you very much.
BEARDSLEY: You're welcome.
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