Macron: Still the Answer for France?

French President Emmanuel Macron reacts during a joint news conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov

Faced with plummeting approval ratings and a growing list of critics, Macron’s young Jupiterian presidency has descended into the earthly conflict of democratic politics.

From the west side of the Atlantic, France may appear to be experiencing a time of political calm. While President Donald Trump feeds news outlets a constant stream of staffing changes and political crises, President Emmanuel Macron offers relatively infrequent opportunities for breaking news. Stories on Macron rarely examine the inner workings of his administration, instead often highlighting flashy PR moments, like when he impersonates James Bond or welcomes celebrities like Rihanna to Paris. However, this disparity in news coverage is deceiving. Although France lacks the conspicuous chaos that characterizes the White House, cracks in Macron’s shiny political exterior could be beginning to emerge. His short time in office has been characterized by public disagreements with his officials and popular backlash to his proposed policies, leaving Macron doubling down on his cabinet to salvage his public image and preserve his vision of the presidency. Macron entered office with a vision for a “Jupiterian” presidency, which exists above petty political squabbles, but it seems he has grossly underestimated the inherently conflictual nature of democracy.

For a man who was described as having “the stuff of presidents,” Macron’s meteoric rise to power seems like a natural progression in a lifetime of achievement. A former investment banker, Macron had a brief stint in politics under his predecessor, François Hollande, before his self-made political party, La République En Marche (LREM), brought him to the pinnacle of democratic politics—the presidency. He entered office with a healthy dose of narcissism fostered by years of prodigal success, and his perception of the French presidency reflects this. Macron balked at Hollande’s humble aspiration to be a “normal president.” His perceived notion of the way Hollande handled his time in office is inadequate for his own vision for the contemporary French presidency: a position meant to provide stability and leadership vis-à-vis reinvigorated democratic authority.

To fulfill this role, Macron aspires to be a “Jupiterian” president, acting as a “remote, dignified figure” leading the state. As befits the Roman king of gods, this vision of leadership is characterized by strong, centralized power and a polished public image. Displaying a strong affinity for micromanagement, Macron exercises tight control over media appearances and presidential communications. If he is not speaking through the official government spokesperson, Christophe Castaner, he interacts with the press through carefully choreographed appearances and targeted speeches while reserving the right to remain silent. Macron notably declined to host a traditional Bastille Day news conference because his “complex thought process” would be too much for journalistic questioning. His desire for meticulous control of media content also extends to his ministers, who make rare public statements which are subject to Macron’s pre-approval.