BY: Manfredi Pozzoli
Decline, France's norm?
On 20th July, the Macron administration announced a series of changes to the French cabinet, with the replacement of three key ministers (Education and Youth, Health, and Urban Development). Macron’s sweeping changes come in the context of ongoing and growing issues facing the President. The continuing post-pandemic cost of living crisis, fuelled by the ripple effects of the War in Ukraine have severely damaged Macron's popularity in his second term.

Most critical have been the waves of protests that have struck France over the past six months. First, in the aftermath of the unpopular pension reform steamrolled by the government, and later after the police killing of seventeen-year-old Nahel Merzouk in Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris caused Macron’s approval ratings to dip below 30%. In general, the French government seems to be paralysed by waves of popular unrest it does not have an answer for. This has been reflected internationally as well: in March, the Council of Europe attacked Macron for the police’s excessive use of force against protesters, while the recent killing has led to further tensions with MENA countries. Moreover, the protests following the killing of Nahel have also become a stage for rising extremist sentiments and extra-national political competitions, with pro-Algerian government groups, Islamist formations, and far-right networks fuelling the clashes.

The ongoing crisis is likely to further damage France’s international credibility and reputation especially in terms of its stability and continue a downward spiral that has characterised the second half of Macron’s presidency. It may also demonstrate that Macron’s ambitions to make France a global power and even a European leader on par with Germany are severely misplaced. Finally, it may open the door for further foreign destabilising intervention within the country. For instance, tensions could be used to spread disinformation and conduct information warfare operations, while Algeria and other MENA governments might take advantage of them to leverage the influence of the large Middle Eastern diaspora in the country. For now, though the move may appear significant, it is unlikely that the reshuffle of government figures will significantly boost Macron’s popularity with the French public. On the contrary, the ongoing escalation in street violence might further destabilise Paris, forcing it to reconsider its external outlook.

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