Only 34 percent of people surveyed by pollster Ifop for the conservative weekly Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD) said they were “satisfied” with Mr Macron’s actions as president, compared with 66 percent who said they were “dissatisfied”. However, the poll of 988 people, carried out on August 21 and 22, showed that the young centrist’s popularity rating is slowly creeping back up to pre-crisis levels. Mr Macron’s approval rating plummeted to 23 percent in December 2018, when the country’s citizen-led yellow vest rebellion reached its peak.
At the time, the president’s score matched the low charted by his predecessor François Hollande in late 2013.
M Hollande was then considered to be the most unpopular leader in modern French history.
M Macron, 41, rose to power in 2017 on a centrist platform, obliterating mainstream parties on the right and left with a promise to revive the sluggish economy and clean up politics.
But over the past nine months, the momentum has been knocked out of his presidency by the sometimes violent anti-government movement, which has held weekly protests against social inequality and his centrist administration.
The first yellow vest demonstrations were held in mid-November to contest planned fuel tax hikes but rapidly evolved into a broader revolt against the Macron government, widely perceived as being arrogant and indifferent to citizens’ daily concerns.
The protests badly damaged M Macron’s popularity, forcing him to adopt a less confrontational attitude and agree to a series of policy U-turns.
In April, he promised significant tax cuts in a bid to defuse popular anger, but also called for a return to public order.
He said that the tax cuts would be worth some £4.5 billion (€5bn) and financed by eliminating corporate tax breaks, longer work hours and reductions in public spending.
The measures came on top of a package of tax cuts and income top-ups worth more than £9 billion (€10bn) announced at the height of the unrest in December.
In June, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that it was time to relaunch M Macron’s reform agenda with what he called an “Act II,” but stressed the new measures would be implemented in a less abrasive manner than in the past.
M Philippe said his government would create incentives for the French to stay in work longer and reiterated his intention to simplify France’s unwieldy pensions system to make it fairer.
“We will maintain the possibility to retire at 62, but we will define a pivot age and incentives to work longer,” he said.
On unemployment benefits, M Philippe said allowances would be scaled back for high earners who lose their jobs, and that a controversial scheme allowing former employees to receive monthly benefits that exceeded their monthly salary would be scrapped.
While the protests have all but fizzled out, the pension and unemployment benefits systems – two major planks of M Macron’s reform drive – are hot-button issues that may reignite yellow vest anger.
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