(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron heads to Versailles Monday to speak to a joint session of the two chambers of parliament as his popularity slides and opponents taunt him for acting like France is still a monarchy.
The 40-year-old has been buffeted by criticism that his style is haughty and his policies favor the rich, impressions kindled by distractions like building a swimming pool at a presidential residence in Southern France, replacing the tableware of the presidential palace with an expensive new set and telling off a teenager who spoke to him in a casual tone.
“The denunciations of a style that is judged more and more monarchical isn’t limited to the far left,” said Celine Bracq, director general at pollster Odoxa. “The barbs come even from his own camp, who let it be know they think Emmanuel Macron lives in an ivory tower where he doesn’t listen to advisers, MPs, or political partners.”
Politically, the French president is safe: his movement maintains a solid majority in parliament, and there are no national elections of any sort until European parliament elections in May 2019.
But an Odoxa poll published July 5 for Le Figaro said 71 percent of the French think Macron’s policies are unfair, 65 percent think his policies are inefficient, and 55 percent think his Monday speech is unnecessary. An Elabe poll for Les Echos also published July 5 said almost the same: 76 percent found his policies unjust, and 66 percent inefficient.
An Elabe poll published July 6 said Macron’s approval rating fell six points in the month to 34 percent, just three points above predecessor Francois Hollande at the same point of his presidency. Harris said June 29 that his approval rating fell 7 points to 40 percent.
Soon after his election in May 2017, Macron’s government relaxed labor laws, eliminated a wealth tax, and announced plans to cut some welfare programs. Yet government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Friday critics should look at other policies, such as doubling the number of teachers in some schools and increasing spending on job training.
“I’m tired of hearing that all we do is give gifts to the rich,” Griveaux said. “We don’t rule with our nose in opinion polls.”
Making lawmakers travel 20 kilometers to a grand setting at Versailles, once the playground of French kings, is only adding fuel to those claiming Macron is arrogant.
Following a constitutional change in 2008 pushed through by then President Nicolas Sarkozy, French presidents can summon the lower 577-seat National Assembly and the upper 348-seat Senate to Versailles for a joint session. Macron spoke to Congress in July last year and said he’d renew the exercise every year.
The speech is intended to lay out the government’s program for the next year, including potentially controversial efforts to unify France’s disparate retirements systems, as well as delayed plans to improve the health service, reduce poverty and improve public housing. He’ll be counting on these to counter accusations that his policies have favored the wealthy.
“Transforming the country takes time because we are tackling the roots of the problems, not just the symptoms,” Griveaux said.
Opponents aren’t impressed. The 18 MPs from France Unbowed have said they will boycott the speech. Griveaux said they should at least “show the common courtesy of coming to listen.”
“The Monarch Emmanuel Macron will once again receive the representatives of the people in Versailles,” Eric Coquerel, a member of parliament for leftist party France Unbowed, said on Twitter July 3. “They will have the right to listen to his majesty and to respond once he’s left. This new world has everything of the Ancien Regime and none of the Republic.”
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