Last week the French president enjoyed celebrity visits from Rihanna and Bono. But as political reality bites, his ratings have begun to drop
A young leader marches to office promising sweeping change and buoyed by hopes that he will introduce a new style of politics to replace a rejected establishment. He seems to walk on water and to be in touch with his times as he injects fresh life into international gatherings and invites pop stars to the official residence. Tony Blair 1997 or Emmanuel Macron 2017; Cool Britannia at Downing Street or, as we saw last week, Rihanna and Bono at the lyse Palace to discuss world education and poverty.
But if it took half a dozen years for the Blair halo to lose its lustre, the French president is already facing negative comments that he is a bit too good to be true, that he is proving too big for his boots and that his promised new start for France will run aground on the familiar problems that stymied his predecessors. Undeterred, however, by the criticism and falling poll numbers, Macron forged ahead last week with initiatives ranging from nationalising the countrys biggest shipbuilder, STX France, to presiding at a meeting where Libyas two main rival leaders agreed to call a ceasefire and hold elections, as his wife Brigitte bounded down the steps of the palace to greet Rihanna.
Three months after his election became inevitable as he faced the rightwing Front Nationals Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential battle, the inevitable is continuing to happen. The youngest of French presidents is becoming embroiled whether he likes it or not in the everyday business of government. He says he wants to rule as a Jupiter operating above the political maelstrom as he delivers thunderbolt judgments and instructions. His model is Charles de Gaulle, who established the semi-monarchical presidency of the Fifth Republic in 1958 to enable him to rule above party divisions in a way that would bring the French together behind his leadership.
It didnt work out quite like that for the general, who was forced into an unwelcome run-off ballot at the 1965 presidential election and resigned four years later after losing a referendum vote. In France, partisan political divisions and pressure from vested interests never go away. The question is whether the president can gain enough support to transcend them, as De Gaulle did in the early years of the Fifth Republic, or whether they dictate events, as has happened under Macrons three predecessors.