Emmanuel Macron Looking for Political 'Fresh Air' Amid Nationwide Protests

French President Emmanuel Macron is facing a testing week, as hundreds of nationwide protests coincide with the recent resignation of an interior minister and an imminent Cabinet reshuffle.

On Tuesday, trade unions launched nationwide strikes and called on workers, students and pensioners to unite in protest against Macron’s pro-business policies, which they say are “destroying France’s social model” and attacking “once again the weakest, most precarious and the poorest.”

Macron has long pledged to loosen France’s labor laws and slash public spending. But while he has already implemented parts of his agenda, two of his latest targets—pensions and unemployment benefits—are particularly sensitive politically.

His new wave of reforms aims to overhaul the current system and reorient it toward the individual, tying pensions to on-job performance and unemployment benefits to trying to find work.

“The priority is simple: build the welfare state of the 21st century,” Macron said in August. The unions going on strike said these reforms would introduce "a logic of individualization which undermines solidarity and social justice."

With the more moderate CFBT union refusing to join the strike, Tuesday’s protest is unlikely to cause Macron too many problems. There should be no major impact on public transport, and the size of the demonstrations won't match those that took place earlier in the year. But in the broader context of Macron’s presidency, these protests will only add to a sense of mounting pressure.

Last week, on October 3, Macron was confronted with the resignation of his interior minister, Gérard Collomb. This was just weeks after the resignations of two other ministers. Collomb had been one of Macron’s earliest allies, but he became critical of the president—often publicly—in the weeks and months leading up to his resignation.

“Very few of us can still talk to [Macron],” Collomb told a small group of journalists in August, according to The Guardian. “Soon he won’t put up with me anymore. But if we all bow down before him he’ll end up isolated.”

Collomb has also said that Macron “lacks humility,” a feeling that is increasingly common in France and one of the key causes of the president’s plummeting popularity. His approval rating now hovers around 30 percent, lower than his predecessor, François Hollande, at a similar time and far below the 60 percent approval he had when elected in May 2017.

Now, in the hope of restoring lost momentum, Macron and his prime minister, Édouard Philippe, are planning a Cabinet reshuffle—his second in two months but rumored to be a wider overhaul of Macron’s team. Macron’s office is remaining secretive on the plan but says it is readying for “an important rebound,” according to Bloomberg.

“We need to remain true to our initial project, but we need a breath of fresh air,” Richard Ferrand, speaker of the National Assembly and a close ally of Macron’s, told Le Journal du Dimanche on Sunday.

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