France elected a political maverick as president and granted him a huge parliamentary majority. A Franco-German studies expert talks to DW about what Macron has done so far, and what his fading poll numbers really mean.
DW: Professor Baasner, what is your interim assessment of Emmanuel Macron's performance so far?
Frank Baasner: 100 days are both a long and a short time. We can't expect an elected president – who then had parliamentary elections, and had to form a government – to present a fait accompli after just three months. But we must give him a lot of credit for doing everything he said he would do. From that point of view he's well on his way to chalking up successes.
There will now be a series of litmus tests. The labor market reforms are lined up for the autumn. These have largely been discussed and negotiated with the trade unions, whom he heavily involved, and to whom he also made some concessions. He actually wanted to implement the changes to employment law as early as August, but he postponed it to the beginning of September to please the unions.
Then next year there'll be the really big thing: pension reform. This will gradually reduce the special regulations for very privileged pensions for former state-owned enterprises. That will be a very difficult reform. But if by then unemployment has fallen, the economy is picking up and looking dynamic, it'll be an opportunity for Macron to say, "Look, I'm making the right reforms. Back this, and we'll be successful together."
Right now, though, the new president's popularity ratings have plummeted. What's the explanation for this?
First of all, the economic figures really aren't that bad. It's the first time a great deal of work has gone into job creation. That hasn't yet had a radical impact on the statistics, but we are seeing businesses in many sectors taking employees on again.
But it's also true that the approval ratings in the polls have plummeted. I think it's because Macron campaigned on a kind of promise of salvation. He was going to revolutionize France, change everything. Afterwards it will have become clear to many people that it can't be done quite so easily. It's also summer now, a slack period, and the president isn't as present in the media as he was. He's on holiday in Marseilles. From that viewpoint it's not surprising that he's lost so much emotional support.
Read more: Mixed reviews for Macron's first 100 days
One thing that has certainly damaged the president is the reduction of housing benefit by five euros a month. If five euros cause such an outcry, what's going to happen when he makes really heavy cuts?
This housing benefit is actually a bit peculiar, because everybody gets it. If a German student is studying in France, fully equipped with a German student grant and financial support from his parents, he gets it, too. Even if he doesn't need it. It would have been better to introduce an assessment of need, rather than simply shaving off five euros. But you're quite right: Social reactions will always be strong when there are changes to established customs to which people have grown attached.
Macron convened and adressed a special parliamentary session at Versailles, at which he presented his vision
Do you personally anticipate a busy autumn of protests?
I don't think so, but it's hard to see into the crystal ball. We don't know what measures are still to come in the autumn. What's important is to see that the French trade unions are deeply divided. There's the camp of those who want to negotiate and join in the social dialogue in order to create momentum in the country. And then there are the others, who are always "anti" before it's even clear what's being said. That's the CGT.
But in the last trade union elections, the CGT was no longer the strongest union. That was the CFDT, which is willing to negotiate. I think the majority of citizens and trade unions are aware now that things can be changed, that negotiation is possible, without it leading to total collapse.
Macron, seen here visiting an air force plane in July, is a master of projecting political imagery through the photo op
In the president's first 100 days, the public saw some perfectly staged photos. For example, the president in military dress abseiling onto a nuclear submarine. On the other hand, Macron is also avoiding letting the press scrutinize his every move, and turns down traditional interviews. What's the strategy behind this?
A lot of things are changing. Emmanuel Macron is someone who very much cultivates this almost monarchical staging of the powerful president. He doesn't think the president has too much power. On the contrary. He says it's good that he has power, and I'm going to use this power. At the same time, he's trying to bring back more dignity to the office. Remember the story about François Hollande's Elysée hairdresser, or the escapades on a moped to visit his close acquaintance. This is also what's on Macron's mind when he stages photos very carefully and doesn't go around providing photo ops for gossip magazines. He laid down clear rules for his holiday in Marseilles, too. One photographer has already been charged with harassment because he didn't respect the "security and privacy distance."
Professor Frank Baasner is the director of the Deutsch-Französisches Institut (dfi) in Ludwigsburg, which is an independent research and advisory center on France and Franco-German relations.
The interview was conducted by Andreas Noll.