Macron to flesh out EU vision amid sliding popularity

Macron's signature economic reform – scrapping large parts of the country's 300-page labour code and trimming the powers of trade unions – is set to be unveiled in September. [Shutterstock]

French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to flesh out his plans for Europe in a speech on Tuesday (29 August), after a weekend poll showed his “dissatisfaction rating” rising to 57%, up from 43% in July.

Facing sliding approval ratings at home, Macron will lay out his foreign policy vision this week after a dynamic start on the international stage that has yet to produce results.

On Monday, he welcomes the African leaders of Chad, Niger and Libya as well as his European counterparts from Germany, Spain and Italy for talks expected to focus on cutting illegal migration to Europe.

On Tuesday, he will speak at the annual meeting of France’s ambassadors in Paris where he will lay out his priorities for the coming year in front of 200 envoys.

“Macron has made a successful entrance on the international scene in terms of style, and style is important in international affairs,” said former diplomat Michel Duclos from the Montaigne Institute think-tank in Paris. “Thanks to him, France is audible again in the world,” he added. “Will that be followed by results? That’s another question.”

Macron, a 39-year-old centrist, won power in May determined to restore what he saw as the country’s declining international prestige under former Socialist president François Hollande.

His first 100 days in office have been marked by a series of headline-catching announcements and a streak of meetings in Paris or abroad where he has often spoken candidly with foreign leaders.

He won plaudits at home for raising human rights in Russia during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin, while he also took a stand against President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris accord on fighting climate change.

In Europe, he has singled out the hard-right government in Poland for criticism, saying the country had “decided to go against European interests in many areas”.

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EU reform

Macron’s plans for the 28-member European Union are likely to be at the heart of his speech on Tuesday.

He has already spoken about his ambition to create a more “protective Europe” which better shields its people and industry from foreign investment in strategic economic sectors and unfair imports from abroad.

But he also has a long-term vision of deepening cooperation between the bloc’s members and changing the EU’s institutions, particularly for those members which use the euro as a common currency.

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His ability to usher in changes, such as creating a new budget for the eurozone, will depend in large part on the success of his domestic economic overhauls, some experts say.

“Everyone in Europe, in Germany above all, is watching to see what Macron does with the labour code and his ambition of reducing the budget deficit,” said former diplomat Pierre Vimont from the Carnegie Europe think-tank.

Macron’s signature economic reform – scrapping large parts of the country’s 300-page labour code and trimming the powers of trade unions – is set to be unveiled in September and will face immediate resistance from street protesters. The far-left CGT trade union is leading a rally to protest against what it sees as plans to deregulate the jobs market.

Macron has also vowed to cut public spending and respect EU budget rules, which state that a country should not run a deficit of more than 3% of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The French President is hoping that his reformist zeal in France will convince Germany, which goes to the polls in September, to join him in his drive to overhaul the European Union.

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Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute for International Relations, said that the Franco-German alliance was important, but that Macron needed to take into account others.

“The relationship with Italy is difficult,” he said, pointing to disagreements over the handling of illegal migration to Europe and Macron’s decision to nationalise a strategic shipyard in July to stop it from falling into private Italian hands.

Italy was also left sidelined in efforts to bring stability to war-wracked Libya, a former Italian colony, when Macron organised a meeting between rival leaders in Paris in July without consulting Rome.

Macron then had to row back a promise to create “migrant hotspots” in Libya – places where asylum seekers could lodge a request to travel to Europe – which was again made without wider consultation.

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Drop in popularity

Macron’s foreign policy announcements come amid a dramatic drop in the French President’s popularity ratings.

Most French voters are now dissatisfied with Macron’s performance, a poll showed on Sunday, a dramatic decline for a president who basked in a landslide election victory less than four months ago.

The poll, conducted by Ifop for newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD), showed Macron’s “dissatisfaction rating” rising to 57%, from 43% in July. 40% expressed satisfaction with the centrist leader, down 14 points from July.

Eurobarometer: Europhilia on the rise in France

In France, optimism for the EU has been on the rise since last autumn, according to a Eurobarometer study published on Friday (17 August). EURACTIV France reports.