Emmanuel Macron, who has been president of France for just over 100 days, has been ensnared in yet another controversy after the magazine Le Point reported that he has already racked up a makeup bill of €26,000 ($30,700).
The episode, however, underscores the risks facing Macron, a newcomer to elected office who built a political movement around the promise of remaking France’s economy. A summer of scandals has caused his popularity to tank and jeopardized his reform agenda.
The first major warning signs came in July, when Macron sparred with Prime Minister Édouard Philippe over whether to proceed with tax cuts in the face of a larger-than-expected budget deficit. Macron prevailed, but not without making cuts to public spending.
Later that month, French armed forces commander Pierre de Villiers resigned in protest over €850 million ($980 million) in cuts to the country’s defense budget for this year. Macron’s decision to reduce housing benefit also went down badly.
But it was a controversy over Macron’s wife Brigitte that generated the biggest headlines. The former investment banker came under fire over plans to give his wife official status as “First Lady” of France, a role that includes access to public funds and a staff.
Macron was previously outspoken in his determination to rid the French political system of nepotism. A petition against the move was signed by over 300,000 people, forcing the president to backtrack.
Macron’s approval rating has plummeted from 62% after he was elected to 36%, according to a recent poll conducted by Ifop for the newspaper Le Figaro. His predecessor, Francois Hollande, had an approval rating of 46% at the same point in his presidency.
Even worse, only 23% of people think Macron is changing the country for the better.
“While some loss of support is normal, this slump appears to bode ill,” said Jessica Hinds, European economist at Capital Economics.
The plummeting poll numbers come as Macron prepares to embark on supremely ambitious economic reforms that are likely to draw intense opposition from some unions.
Macron plans to radically transform the French labor market by making it easier to fire poorly performing staff. He also set out a plan to add more flexibility to the 35 hour working week, if agreed at the company level.
He also hopes to simplify France’s pension systems and bring down budget deficit by trimming the country’s huge public sector.
“To succeed, he will need the continued goodwill of both the general public and the unions. Otherwise he risks getting bogged down in long-running consultations and possible strike action, which felled many of his predecessors’ reform efforts,” Hinds said.
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