France's Macron suffers approval setback after two months in job

French President Emmanuel Macron listens to speeches in northern France on July 26, 2017.
French President Emmanuel Macron listens to speeches in northern France on July 26, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

FRANCE (BLOOMBERG) - President Emmanuel Macron's approval rating fell sharply in the past month as French voters were either confused by plans for the tax system, shocked by a dispute with the head of the army or unsettled by upcoming labor laws reform, an Ifop pollster told Journal du Dimanche.

The rating for Macron, elected in early May, fell 10 percentage points to 54 per cent this month, the second-biggest decline for a French president so soon after election. Jacques Chirac dropped 15 points from his May 1995 election to July, the Paris-based pollster said.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe's approval rating also fell, by eight points to 56 per cent. The survey for JDD was conducted by phone and online July 17-22 among 1,947 respondents; no margin of error was given.

"Macron's entry in the atmosphere is brutal, he's facing the brunt of several sectors in society," Jerome Fourquet, the head of Ifop opinion polls, told Journal du Dimanche. Fourquet said a tax increase that will hit retirees, new measures that that will curtail civil servants' advantages and his demonstrations of "authoritarian style" in some cases were among reasons cited by those surveyed.

"Some of those polled were openly criticising a presidency based on communication," he added.  Tough Week The survey follows a tough week for the 39-year-old leader. While many had expected Macron's ambitious reform plans to crash into reality, his first major political test came July 19 in an unexpected dispute with France's top military commander General Pierre de Villiers, who resigned following a clash with Macron over budgetary matters. Macron sought to calm the quarrel with the French military in a visit to an airbase the next day.

France's youngest president ever, a former banker who was not aligned with either major party and who had never held - or run for - elective office, defeated the populist and nationalist National Front leader Marine Le Pen. While he did win with more than 66 per cent of the votes, many voters abstained or cast an invalid ballot in form of protest, making Macron's electoral base rather fragile.

The French leader's agenda this week could help him move on from the domestic troubles.

His first event Monday is a conference call with Germany's Angela Merkel, Russia's Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. Later in the day, he'll meet with scientists fighting the AIDS virus and he'll finish his day with Bono, the U2 singer and co-founder of the ONE non-governmental organization.

His best chance to shine will come Wednesday at 5 pm when he has a meeting scheduled with the pop singer Rihanna at the Elysee presidential palace, according to his official agenda.