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Coronavirus crisis throws a lifeline to Macrons troubled presidency

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While the coronavirus epidemic rages in France and around the world, President Emmanuel Macrons poll ratings have jumped to a two-year high. Analysts say that, while his leadership style played badly during the Yellow Vest protests and pensions strikes, it has been an asset during the current crisis.

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A series of polls over recent weeks has shown that Macron is enjoying a popularity bump amid the coronavirus crisis. In late March, a Harris Interactive survey found that 51 percent of French people “have confidence” in Macron – a 13-point increase on the previous month. It is the first time he has enjoyed a majority approval rating since January 2018.

Other pollsters have noted similar upticks in his popularity, with Ipsos showing him up by 14 points and Ifop up by 11.

Frances coronavirus death toll stands at more than 7,500 and the number of confirmed cases at more than 68,600, making it Europes third-worst-affected nation behind Italy and Spain. The country has been under lockdown since March 17 – a situation that will last until April 15 at the very least, with people allowed to leave their homes only to buy necessities, go to work, exercise or seek medical care.

Astonishing popularity surge

Like many other world leaders, Macron has not shied away from massive state intervention in the economy to manage the crisis. He announced plans to quickly ramp up production of face masks and ventilators to address shortfalls, while his government will disburse around €300 million to businesses affected by the virus – warning that it “wont tolerate” such companies rewarding shareholders with dividends this year – and has responded to the threat of food shortages by exhorting supermarkets to “stock French products”.

The president has also taken a firm stance in his televised addresses. In his speech announcing the lockdown on March 16, he took pains to stress the gravity of the situation, repeating the refrain, “We are at war” and admonishing people who disregarded a previous request for social distancing: “We saw people gather in parks, crowded markets, restaurants and bars who did not follow the instructions … Not only are you not protecting yourself, but you are not protecting others.”

The speech got a record 35 million audience as more than half of the French population tuned in.

For many, this approach has bolstered Macrons credentials as an efficient manager who knows what he is doing, said Paul Smith, a professor of French politics at Nottingham University. The president is seeing an “astonishing popularity surge” because “this sort of crisis allows the technocrat to step in and take tough decisions – the French state is, after all, built for just such a situation and most people understand the need for massive intervention”.

Symbol of an out-of-touch elite

Macron argued that the French head of state should adopt an imposing style long before he announced sweeping restrictions on daily life in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Ever since its foundation in 1958 by the famously imperious Charles de Gaulle amid the chaos of the Algerian War, Frances Fifth Republic has been characterised by a powerful presidency, sometimes described as a republican monarchy. Macron put his own distinctive stamp on this concept. After winning the Élysée Palace in the 2017 elections, he declared that France needed a “Jupiterian” presidency – referring to Jupiter, the Roman king of gods.

To many critics, this leadership style has seemed haughty, fuelling the anger of the Yellow Vest protesters who first took France by storm in late 2018 and that of the unions opposed to Macrons pension reforms, who shut down large parts of France last winter in the countrys longest strike since 1968.

Tellingly, a survey conducted by the Elabe pollsters on March 5 – before the widespread realisation that the coronavirus would soon upend peoples way of life – showed Macrons approval rating had fallen by two points to a paltry 29 percent after he forced his pension bill through the National Assembly in late February by using Article 49.3. Arguably the Fifth Republics most controversial legal Read More – Source