Macron Tries to Contain Political Fallout After Another Minister Quits
(Bloomberg) -- French President Emmanuel Macron is trying to contain the aftermath of the messy resignation of his earliest political ally and most senior minister, the second major figure to leave his government in three months.
“Nothing that has been happening for the past 48 hours is a political crisis,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Wednesday after the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee presidential palace, citing Macron. “The state is functioning, the government is working,” he said.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, 71, quit in the early hours of Wednesday after he had already announced he wanted step down to return to local politics in his hometown of Lyon. During the cabinet meeting Wednesday, Macron downplayed Collomb’s departure, saying that the decision was “for personal reasons.”
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is temporarily handling all of the Interior Ministry’s affairs, until a successor is appointed. That should be "a matter of days," Griveaux told reporters.
The blow is big for Macron: Collomb’s resignation comes as Macron is trying to recover from a series of gaffes and economic setbacks that had drawn him in polls to the lowest for a French leaders after 15 months in power. The opposition has been quick to jump on that new episode.
"The Titanic is sinking further faster and faster and the orchestra stopped playing," Eric Ciotti, an opposition lawmaker from conservative party The Republicans, said in an interview with RTL radio early Wednesday. "It’s a mess at the helm of the State," socialist lawmaker Boris Vallaud said.
Collomb follows Nicolas Hulot, a popular television presenter and green activist who quit as environment minister in August, blaming the government for not giving enough attention to environmental causes.
Collomb, three times elected mayor of Lyon and now seeking a fourth mandate, was the first top French political figure to rally Macron when the young and inexperienced politician launched his presidential campaign, granting him support and contacts. Collomb, seen as a pillar of Macron’s government, shared a special bond according to the French president himself: the eldest member of his government cried at the then 39-year-old winner’s presidential inauguration.
“His departure is particularly sensitive because he was the first big elected official to rally to Macron. He gave credibility to Macron, so to see their couple fall apart is striking,” said Florian Silnicki from LaFrench’Com, a Paris-based communications agency. “To have a minister using a series of interviews in media to take swipes at the executive power and to use the interviews to resign, it poses a real problem,” he added.
The resignation, announced in a text message to reporters ten minutes after midnight, came after 36 hours of mixed and contradictory signals coming from the Elysee palace and the minister himself. Collomb publicly displayed some discontent as he stood on the steps of his ministry on Wednesday morning, waiting with signs of impatience for the prime minister to take over his security duties.
“It looks bad from an institutional point of view and it’s bad from a communications point of view,” Silnicki said. BFM television, France’s most watched all-news station, titled its coverage “Macron in Turmoil.”
The bond between the two was ruptured in July when Collomb told a parliamentary hearing the presidential palace was to blame in the affair of a Macron bodyguard caught beating up protesters. Collomb, of blue collar extraction, also said in a September televised interview that Macron’s lack of “humility” explained his slide in the polls.
Macron’s approval ratings have fallen below 30 percent in some recent polls, with critics pointing to his aloofness and policies seen as benefiting the wealthy. His own bodyguard, who was fired for violence, said there as a “court” around the French
leader, echoing Collomb’s comments.
The French president, while saying he was not poll-driven during an interview with Bloomberg last week, has nevertheless been paying attention: during last week’s four-day visit to the French Caribbean islands recovering from last year’s hurricanes, the president sought to show his connection to the people. In an interview with the Journal du Dimanche, he said: “I am happy to be among people. I like being in contact, being with them. It revives me.”
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