From the Benalla affair to the governmental reshuffle, analysis of an ineffective communication
Could Emmanuel Macron’s strong suit during his presidential campaign and its first year in office gradually become a weakness? His communication during his first year in office, always under control, has made way for false notes since the beginning of the summer.
Emmanuel Macron’s hesitation during the Benalla affair has opened a breach in which the political opposition has gladly stepped in. Since then, criticism against President Macron has been ever-increasing. The President’s will to regain control of his communication, epitomized by the replacement of spokesperson Bruno Roger-Petit by Sylvain Fort, has not proven effective yet yet.
While he initially resisted better than M. Hollande and M. Sarkozy during his first year in tenure, Emmanuel Macron is now quickly dropping in the polls, hitting 30% of approval rating.
Saying things as they are
Former President François Hollande was well-known for his witticisms, denounced by his opponents as a form of dilettantism. Emmanuel Macron’s cutting remarks, spontaneous but serious, are also lambasted by his political opponents as they reveal, according to them, his disconnection with French people.
In the span of a few days, M. Macron first called French people “Gauls who are reluctant to change”, before advising an unemployed horticulturalist to “cross the road” to find a job in the restaurant industry. Before last summer, he also appeared in a video speaking of the “insane dough” spent to address poverty, without perceptible result.
Both to the left and the right of the political spectrum, the “contempt” of a “sermonizer” President was condemned. These sentences are not devoid of political meaning: they convey, according to the President’s staff, a wish to say things as they are to describe reality. The remark on the Gauls was intended to recognize the successful reforms on the Danish labor market and its economic model based on flexicurity. Likewise, his sally to the young horticulturist was an invitation to be more flexible and to constantly adapt to a changing world.
According to a poll by Odoxa, most of the French agree with the content of these remarks. But still, they consider that as a President, he should not utter them. Thus, Emmanuel Macron’s presidential aura is questioned, whereas it was the strong point of the beginning of his term and a distinguishing feature compared to his two (or even three) predecessors in office.
One thing is for sure: each of these sentences, filling and sometimes saturating the media, has weakened the communication of the government on major bills like the Poverty plan, the Health plan or the pension reform. In all these cases, they contributed to undermine the message conveyed by the Government and prevented it from effectively promoting its action.
Finally, it is worth noting that most of the President’s remarks tend to deal with issues traditionally linked with the left wing: unemployment, social benefits, urban policy. They contribute to the feeling that Emmanuel Macron’s balanced positioning as “both left-wing and right-wing at the same time” is gradually becoming “mostly right-wing”.
The loss of control of the communication
On top of those remarks, trouble hindered the proper functioning of the Government, blurring the President’s communication.
Whereas the end of the summer should have been an opportunity to accelerate the Government’s motion, as announced by those close to the President, the resignation of Nicolas Hulot and Laura Flessel first, followed by Gerard Collomb’s exit, have severely undermined the credibility of the presidential communication.
Nicolas Hulot’s resignation – live on national radio – was unprecedented in its shape and form and took the President and the Prime Minister by surprise. Gerard Collomb’s resignation, eventually accepted after President Macron initially asked him to remain in the Government, has contributed to damage the image of a “Jupiterian President” who had hitherto everything under control.
A week was necessary to appoint François de Rugy, two weeks to choose Christophe Castaner while in these two cases, the President eventually picked the most obvious options. If these delays were intended to remind the press that the President was the “time-keeper”, it mostly created disappointment, far from the rebound that was expected.
With his address to the nation following the announcement, Emmanuel Macron, clearly wanted to regain control. He apologized about his crushing remarks, a demonstration of humility underlined by his visibly crossed-out notes, largely shown on camera, and announced ambitious ecological reforms. It remains to be seen if the semi-darkness of the room, the solemnity of the tone and the complexity of some phrases won’t prevent this impromptu address from being the first step of the recovery.