Macron's govt in flux as key ally plans to quit post

France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb plans to quit the government to run for mayor of Lyon in 2020.
France's Interior Minister Gerard Collomb plans to quit the government to run for mayor of Lyon in 2020.

PARIS • France's Interior Minister, one of President Emmanuel Macron's closest allies, has announced plans to quit the government and run for election as mayor of Lyon in 2020, adding to doubts and instability around the young leader's administration.

Mr Gerard Collomb's announcement in an interview in L'Express magazine follows the abrupt resignations of a popular environment minister, who questioned Mr Macron's commitment to the reduction of nuclear power, and the sports minister.

A high-profile member of Mr Macron's party, Republique En Marche, also quit over the weekend.

Mr Macron's approval rating has plunged to about 30 per cent, from around 60 per cent shortly after he was elected in May last year, with opinion polls showing he is regarded as aloof and unsympathetic towards people's everyday hardships.

Mr Collomb, who recently acknowledged what he called a "lack of humility" in Mr Macron's administration, suggested he could stand down as soon as the middle of next year.

"I won't be Interior Minister up to the last minute," he told the weekly magazine.

"Ministers who want to run in the 2020 municipal elections should, in my view, leave the government after the European (Parliament) elections."

The European Parliament vote takes place in May next year.

Mr Macron's office played down news of Mr Collomb's exit plan.

An official there told reporters everyone knew how much Mr Collomb remained a fan of Lyon, where he served as mayor from 2001 until 2017, adding: "The President will reorganise the team when he deems it necessary."

Mr Macron's political opponents seized on the case.

Mr Eric Ciotti of The Republicans said that, coming on the heels of former environment minister Nicolas Hulot, it was the second time in weeks that a minister had abruptly announced exit plans in the media.

"It's a bit like they're fleeing the Titanic," Mr Ciotti told public service radio station France Inter, adding that it was untenable for Mr Collomb to combine preparations for the Lyon election and full-time duties as interior minister in a country under threat of further Islamist militant attacks.

Critics of the pro-business President Macron accuse him of favouring the wealthy in his drive to inject new life into the French economy. He scrapped a wealth tax and reduced the corporate tax while cutting housing allowances for the poor and raising taxes on pensions.

Mr Macron has promised that his reforms will create growth and new jobs, but there is growing impatience among voters as unemployment hovers stubbornly around 9 per cent and the economy expands more slowly than expected.

Mr Collomb said Mr Macron was stuck in a "ketchup moment".

"You thump the bottom of the bottle and, for a time, nothing happens. Then comes a point when the whole lot comes out."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2018, with the headline 'Macron's govt in flux as key ally plans to quit post'. Print Edition | Subscribe