The young centrist’s cutting remarks and aloof leadership style have dragged down his poll numbers, and could well cost his centrist party seats in next year’s European elections. During a visit to Charleville-Mézières, the 40-year-old president – who is on a battlefield tour of northern France ahead of this weekend’s armistice centenary celebrations – chatted with members of the public, including a disgruntled pensioner who likened recent tax hikes to an economic “massacre”. “Why are you massacring my husband and I? Why have our pension payments been reduced again?” she asked.
The young leader repeated his argument that his social and economic reforms would help deeply transform France, but would take a long time to show results. “Give us a little bit more time. I haven’t been [president] for 20 years,” he told the pensioner.
Pensioner discontent is a thorny issue for Mr Macron: France has some 15 million pensioners, the majority of whom are dedicated voters. Pensioners have been protesting around France since Mr Macron raised a tax on pensions in January and then blocked an expected rise for inflation.
They have also argued they have been the most hurt by a package of tax increases, such as on diesel, and social welfare reductions, including in housing aid. The Macron administration estimates 20-25 per cent of pensioners will be a few dozen euros worse off each year compared with before the tax changes, while the wealthiest of them may see their purchasing power fall by several hundred euros annually.
It was not the first time Mr Macron has been captured chiding those who criticise his policies. Last month, he told another unhappy retiree that France would be better off if people “complained less,” adding that pensioners did not realise how lucky they were.
“The French only see what’s being taken away from them,” he said. But his abrasive manner and tendency to lecture – he berated striking workers for “kicking up a bloody mess” and told an unemployed youth he could easily find a job if he tried – have prompted accusations that he is a patronising head of state.
His arrogance problem also seems to be rubbing French voters up the wrong way. A poll of voting intentions on Wednesday showed that Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement national (RN) party has moved ahead of the president’s La République en Marche (LREM) party for the May 2019 European Parliament elections.
The Elabe poll for BFMTV showed his centrist movement winning 19.5 per cent of the French vote – down 4.5 points from May –, and Mrs Le Pen’s nationalist movement winning 20 per cent – up 0.5 points from May. The poll, conducted between November 6 and November 7, asked 1,002 people who they would vote for if the European elections were to be held next Sunday. Mr Macron has framed the vote as a straight choice for or against Europe, positioning himself as a pro-EU progressive and his far-right rivals as eurosceptics who want to tear the bloc apart.