by N. Peter Kramer
Last Monday French President Macron discovered that being a European leader is much more comfortable than running a country. The relaxed meeting with his colleague Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel in Schloss Meseberg was a real boost for him after the crushing defeat he suffered the day before, on his own Black Sunday.
Macron’s party, La Republique En Marche, failed to play an important role in the elections at local level. The French Greens (les Ecologistes) became the big winners, seizing 4 of the 10 biggest cities in the country, Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg and Bordeaux; the Socialists kept the capital, Paris, but also Lille, the big metropole in the north. Les Republicains, Sarkozy’s party, did not give away Toulouse, the big metropole in the south, and held on to a large number of cities and towns including some other cities in the top ten.
Low turnout has plagued French elections for years, but the record low level of last Sunday highlighted the democratic crisis France is facing. One of the reasons can be found in Macron’s low approval ratings. There is widespread discontent with the President, who has lost (if he ever had it) contact with his citizens. The ‘Gilets Jaunes’ (Yellow Jackets) protests followed by long strikes against government reform plans symbolise the immense discontent all over the country.
Macron’s biggest win on Sunday is also one of his biggest headaches. His Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was re-elected as mayor of the city of Le Havre, winning some 59 percent of the vote. He is also enjoying a higher national approval rating than the President himself. People’s confidence in Philippe complicates Macron’s calculations over replacing his Prime Minister as part of a reset of the government to make it ‘greener’. Or will Philippe quit himself? Avoiding the last two unsuccessful years of Macron’s reign could give him a better point of departure for his own shot at the Presidency in 2022.