Robert HARNEIS –TDO- (FRANCE) - French President Emmanuel Macron is suffering record unpopularity just as the Benalla scandal has taken a new turn. He has an approval rating between 20% (Ipsos) and 27% (BVA). Neither Nicolas Sarkozy nor François Hollande sank this low at this stage of their presidency.

To add to his troubles his disgraced former head of security Alexandre Benalla has once again hit the headlines. The French judicial authorities have launched an enquiry into how he came to retain the two diplomatic passports he had when he worked at the Elysée Palace. He is being investigated for ‘breach of trust’ after it was revealed that he recently used them to travel to a number of African countries and Israel on a business trip, despite stating under oath on 19 September, before a Senate enquiry, that he had left them behind in his office when he was dismissed. The newspaper JDD has revealed that in fact they were returned to him at the beginning of October with his personal belongings. The complaint was made by the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

President Macron has suffered a torrid 2018 but 2019 is not looking much better. On the economic front the growth that would have justified his tough love labor law reforms is as elusive as ever. Rather France is in danger of tipping into recession.

On January 1 his introduction of deduction of tax at source kicks in. It is widely supposed to be ill-prepared and is likely to cause more discontent.

His biggest problem is the European Elections in May. The electorate are reluctant to trust radical opposition parties at General elections, where anyway the First Past the Post electoral system favors existing parties. EU elections, however, are held under the proportional system and favor small parties providing they can clear the 3% of votes cast hurdle. The electorate can let themselves go and vote against the government without worrying too much about extremist solutions because the European parliament has no noticeable effect on everyday life. On this basis Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National is likely to garner all the pent up frustrations with the Macron presidency.

On the other hand, unpopular as he is, the French President is still more likely than not to be re-elected in 2022 as the opposition remains fragmented and unable to produce a rival that looks presidential.

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