The coronavirus crisis is proving to be a challenging test for many leaders around the globe. While New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been showered with praise for her “master class” response to the pandemic, many have seen their ratings dramatically drop and could soon be fighting for their survival. This is the case of French President Emmanuel Macron, whose popularity has waned compared to that of his Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe.
In June, Macron’s approval rating dropped to 38 percent from 39 percent a month ago, while Mr Philippe’s approval rating gained four points to 50 percent, according to a poll by Ifop for the Journal Du Dimanche newspaper.
Earlier this week, a BVA survey for RTL and Orange showed that Mr Philippe has been gaining in popularity during the pandemic, with 54 percent of respondents saying they trust him, over 38 percent for Mr Macron.
These polls have renewed speculation that the French President, in search of new momentum ahead of the 2022 presidential election, could ditch Mr Philippe, who has spoken regularly on national TV about risks and measures to fight the coronavirus.
According to a report by The Sunday Times, though, the move could be incredibly risky.
The report reads: “Ousting Philippe from the Prime Minister’s office, the Hôtel de Matignon, would be a dangerous step.
“From his base in Le Havre, he would be perfectly placed to mount a challenge against Macron for the presidency in 2022 — picking up many voters on the centre-right.”
However, the report notes that leaving Mr Philippe in office would also not be without its risks.
It explained: “While serving as economy minister under Hollande, Macron formed his own political party and then stepped down from government to launch his successful bid for the Élysée.
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“The president knows Philippe could follow the example he set.”
Mr Philippe is the mayor of the Normandy port of Le Havre and before the pandemic was a relatively unknown politician.
He is a member of the mainstream-right LR party, whose candidate François Fillon was badly beaten in the first round of voting in 2017.
The 49-year-old trained as a lawyer before working as public affairs director for the state nuclear group Areva between 2007 and 2010.
He then embarked on a political career, becoming an MP in 2012 and Le Havre’s Mayor in 2014.
He was educated at Sciences Po – the prestigious Parisian university also attended by Mr Macron – where he briefly joined the left-wing socialist party, before progressively moving further to the right.
He later attended École nationale d’administration – also attended by Mr Macron, cementing his place among the upper echelons of France’s political elite.
Mr Philippe is a longtime supporter and ally of Alain Juppé, and worked on his bid for the LR presidential nomination.
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While Mr Macron was successful in winning over many of Mr Juppé’s supporters, he struggled to garner the support of his closest allies – something Mr Philippe’s appointment helped him to do.
Despite both Mr Macron and Mr Philippe attesting to their compatibility, the Prime Minister’s views are undoubtedly more conservative than Mr Macron’s.
He has abstained 10 times on votes relating to equal marriage rights for gay couples.
However, Mr Philippe’s appointment was in keeping with Mr Macron’s vision to rejuvenate France’s political traditions.