French President Macron’s popularity plummets amid cuts uproar

AFP Archive | French President Emmanuel Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron’s popularity has suffered the biggest slide in three months since Jacques Chirac, according to a poll published on Sunday in a French newspaper.


Macron’s honeymoon seems to be over as a sweep of budget cuts affecting the army, housing benefits and feminist associations has dented his popularity.

The poll, published in the Journal du Dimanche (JDD) newspaper, said 54 percent of people in France were satisfied with Macron in July, compared with 64 percent in June.

The only French president to have seen his popularity fall more than that in three months is Jacques Chirac in 1995, the paper claims.

A wide range of budget cuts that Macron has made in order to reduce public spending by €60 billion during his presidency has proved controversial.

Military cuts

Earlier this week, the head of the French armed forces resigned following a heated public row with the president over a surprise €850 million cut to military finances.

General Pierre de Villiers said in a resignation statement Wednesday that he no longer felt able to command the sort of armed forces “that I think is necessary to guarantee the protection of France and the French people”.

The cut was first revealed by a finance minister last week and endorsed by Macron, 39, who is the first French president who has neither been in the army nor carried out mandatory military service, which was abolished in the 1990s.

Several politicians from Macron’s party, La République en marche (LREM), have criticised the decision to make the €850 million cut.

Gwendal Rouillard told the French TV station BFM Business on Thursday: “I think the finance ministry’s proposition is unacceptable, downright unacceptable. You can’t say on one hand that we should protect our fellow citizens from the threats today and at the same time, make this kind of decision at the first budgetary hurdle.”

However, Florence Parly, Minister of the Armed Forces, told the JDD on Sunday: “The economic measures taken do not compromise the functioning of our armed forces in 2017 and the commitment to increase the defence budget throughout the coming years will be kept.”

Parly was referring to Macron’s pledge to increase defence spending to 2 percent of GCP by 2025, in line with NATO targets. She added that the budgetary adjustments would be made by smoothing out major equipment programmes.

Housing benefit cuts

Housing benefits, known in France as APL (Aide personnalisée au logement), are also being cut. A government statement to the television channel France 2 on Saturday said that housing benefits for each claimant will be reduced by €5 per month from October 2017. “However, APL will not be slashed completely,” the statement added, allaying fears that the cuts could be more severe.

Those affected by the cuts include 800,000 students, who receive around €225 a month, several of whom took to Twitter to express their anger.

Romain Gros, a university student in Lyon, tweeted a photo of Macron laughing and wrote: “And here I say: ‘I’m reducing housing benefits to compensate for the reduction in the solidarity tax on wealth.’” The tweet sarcastically alluded to Macron’s four-year stint as a Rothschild banker.

The government claims that the decision to reduce housing benefits was actually made under François Hollande. “The APL cuts were passed by the previous government but were never put into place,” said Gérald Darmanin, Minister of Public Action and Accounts. “We will implement the measures voted by parliament.”

Darmanin's claim was refuted by Socialist MP Christian Eckert: "Reducing the APL by €60 a year is their [LREM] decision, not that of the previous government's," he wrote on Twitter.

Women’s rights cuts

The budget allocated for women’s rights is also likely to be slashed. Several feminist groups are concerned that the women’s rights budget could be cut by as much as 25 percent, according to an article published in the JDD last Sunday.

This would see the women’s rights budget decreasing from €29.6 million in 2016, representing 0.006 percent of the state’s overall budget, to €20.1 million.

Marlène Schiappa's office, the French Secretary of State for Equality of Women and Men, has confirmed that there will be cuts but has not clarified by what percent.

“The budget is still being debated and yes, there will be cuts, like everywhere,” Schiappa's office told the television channel LCI. “The 25 to 30 percent figure is groundless but we are unlikely to escape cuts.”

Last Monday, Laurence Rossignol, the former minister for women’s rights, wrote an open letter to French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, which she posted on Twitter, imploring him to reconsider.

“Mr Prime Minister, save the budget allocated for the equality of women/men”, she tweeted.

Similarly, Marilyn Baldeck, chief delegate for the European association on workplace violence against women, told French daily Le Monde: “It doesn’t make sense to cut costs on such a ridiculous budget.”

The expected cuts are surprising given that Macron had presented himself as an ardent supporter of women’s rights during his presidential election campaign.

Macron even declared, “I’m a feminist,” at the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society in Paris last December and vowed to make women’s rights a “national cause”.

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