Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, gestures while speaking during a news conference at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, Belgium. (Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg)

Macron Readies Government Overhaul to Jump Start His Presidency

(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron is readying for Phase Two of his presidency.

The 40-year-old French leader is preparing broad changes within his government to jump start his presidency and draw a line under months of scandals and political setbacks. He is readying for “an important rebound,” according to his office. The new cabinet is expected to be announced on Tuesday, Journal du Dimanche and Le Figaro reported, while Le Parisien reported it could be as soon as Monday.

Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe have been reflecting for several days on how to overcome their latest political setback -- the shock nighttime resignation last week of the most senior cabinet member, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb.

Faced with the dilemma of whether to simply replace the minister and carry on as before or use his departure to revisit his team and style, Macron is opting for major change. His office declined to give details on which ministries would be affected. As is the custom in France, Philippe could resign, and then be renamed at the head of the new government.

The case for a root-and-branch overhaul has become more compelling after a torrid few months that have seen Macron’s style of governance ridiculed and his popularity ratings plunge. Collomb’s messy resignation over two days was the latest blow; Energy Minister Nicolas Hulot, a popular figure in France, quit on live radio in August. Both high-profile ministers aimed parting shots at Macron.

‘Human Factors’

“Chaos of news, scandals, personal ambitions, all these very human factors have upended Macron’s plans,” said Bruno Cautres, a professor at Paris-based Sciences-Po institute. “Either he continues to repair every leak or takes a big step to restore stability.”

Macron didn’t foresee that his close aides could be the catalysts to force him to alter his path so soon in his term, said Francois Patriat, a senator, early backer and leading figure in the president’s new Republic on the Move party.

Macron has always seen his mandate in several stages. The first -- and current -- phase consists of implementing tough reforms on tax, labor laws, training, benefits and pensions to revive the economy. Phase Two should have been capitalizing on those efforts in the run-up to the 2022 presidential election.

But the acceleration to the second phase of the Macron presidency is not a signal that the reforms are over. The new government still has to overhaul unemployment benefits and the pensions systems, two major elements in the grand “transformation” plan that Macron promised during his presidential campaign.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said the reforms will continue under the new team. “Should we stop the transformation?” he said on France Inter radio on Sunday. “Is the country doing that much better that we can stop now?”

Phase Two

Macron is nevertheless under pressure. The government is so far showing no sign of being able to meet its campaign pledge to cut joblessness to 7 percent by the next presidential election. Stuck at more than 9 percent, France’s mass unemployment is still close to the levels measured at the start of Macron’s election in May 2017, while economic growth has slowed.

In the past couple of months, the president’s approval ratings have continued to fall, according to most opinion polls. One survey by Kantar-Sofres put his popularity at 30 percent, the lowest level recorded since he took power.

Macron Agenda

Elected for a five-year mandate with a majority in Parliament and no mid-term elections, Macron should be safe for now. Last week he celebrated the 60th anniversary of France’s Constitution, praising the presidential system that will allow him to continue to maintain his agenda despite the “tempest, the setbacks” and the “tyranny of the now.”

The government overhaul could be a moment to reassess his governance style which appears to be at the root of the problems he’s facing, both within his cabinet and with French voters who label him aloof and even arrogant.

In a Bloomberg interview on Sept. 26, Macron said he “is not poll driven.” He pledged to “keep exactly the same pace” for the rest of his mandate.
 

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