Zara Kulish, Staff Writer
A lot has happened since Emmanuel Macron was sworn in as the President of France six months ago. As a candidate, he faced criticism for the fifteen-year age difference between him and his wife, Brigitte, who was his teacher in high school; despite the fact that they didn’t start dating until long after. After he was elected, Macron announced his plan to make “first lady” an official position. France’s first lady has a staff, office, and guards of her own, all paid for out of the Elysée budget. The first lady’s expenses cost an estimated 450,000 euros per year. Macron’s plan would have given the first lady an official title, as well as a budget of her own. This would have been paid for through public funds. This was seen as hypocritical, given that Macron is also pushing for a law banning members of parliament from hiring their spouses or relatives. As of Aug. 6, over 150,000 French citizens had signed a petition against Macron’s attempt to give his wife an official title.
Since being inaugurated, Macron’s popularity has decreased dramatically. After his first 100 days, he was polling at 36 percent satisfaction. That’s 20 points less than what his predecessor, François Hollande had at that point in his presidency. Hollande left office this year as the least popular French president in history.
In September, the Macron faced his first major street protests. The protests, led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, were in response to changes to the Code du Travail (Labor Code) that workers believed put their jobs in a precarious position, giving employers greater prerogative for hiring and firing. There was also outrage that the changes were not voted on by parliament, but rather set in place by presidential decree. French presidential decrees, similar to executive orders, skip the legislative process, and immediately become law. President Macron signed a set of five decrees into law on Sept. 22 – all dealing with labor laws. These decrees put a cap on the payout for an unfair dismissal, as well as endowing greater power on companies to hire, fire, and decide working conditions for workers. These are but the first in a series of changes that Macron promises will reinvigorate the economy. Still to come are adjustments to the pension system and unemployment benefits, which will likely draw more popular criticism. Macron seems to be establishing a pattern of executive rule similar to what President Trump has done in his first few months in office, which is interesting given the parallels that were drawn between Trump and Marine Le Pen, Macron’s opponent, during the election.
In recent days, Macron has gained the unfortunate moniker “president of the rich.” He faces criticism from both sides of the aisle for his policies benefiting those with more money. His economic reforms are unchecked, and the previously mentioned union demonstrations had no real effect. He has made compromises on his reforms, which divided the French labor party – an almost entirely new phenomenon in the Fifth Republic. Most of the outcry comes as a response to his proposal to reduce the Solidarity Tax on Wealth, from which the government doesn’t draw a whole lot of revenue anyhow. It is a mostly symbolic tax, as wealth in France is often seen as having ties to injustice.
On Oct. 31, Macron lifted the state of emergency that France had been under since the November 2015 Paris attacks. However, he put in place a new anti-terrorism law that takes some of the toughest elements from state of emergency policy and makes them permanent. Local prefects were granted special powers for widespread surveillance, counterterrorism measures, and some judicial oversight. These include the ability to shut down mosques, restrict movement of persons deemed suspicious, and conduct warrantless searches. When this law took effect the following Wednesday, France became the first country in Western Europe to have officials with de facto state of emergency powers.