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France’s Macron weakened by crisis over teen killed by police

Governing his already-polarized country has gotten close to impossible for Macron because a suburban police officer stopped a yellow Class A Mercedes in a bus lane and fired one fatal shot into the 17-year-old driver’s chest

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks following a government emergency meeting after riots erupted for the third night in a row across the country, at the Interior Ministry in Paris, Friday, June 30, 2023.YVES HERMAN (AP)

Even in normal times Emmanuel Macron needed allies’ help governing France.

To get some things done he worked with the traditional right. The center-left helped the French president accomplish others. The challenge was bigger than any a French leader had faced in more than two decades: He had to convince politicians across the country’s national assembly to support even a minor domestic project.

Now, governing his already-polarized country has gotten close to impossible for Macron because a suburban police officer stopped a yellow Class A Mercedes and fired one fatal shot into the 17-year-old driver’s chest, setting off six days of tumult across the country.

Macron’s centrist Renaissance party and its close allies had merely 251 seats out of 577 after Macron won his second five-year term last year with 58% of the votes in a runoff with far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Macron dreamed big despite the close victory. His first big goal was raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, which he had to force through parliament. He then hoped to re-industrialize France, improve working conditions and finalize a new immigration bill. Abroad, Macron championed European sovereignty and independence in fields ranging from the economy and energy to defense.

But all that has had to fall by the wayside.

Macron shortened a visit to a European summit in Brussels last week for a crisis meeting with his government. This week, he called a last-minute delay in a visit to Germany that had been meant to show the strength of the binationational friendship despite disputes on energy, defense and the economy, among other issues.

The changes in his agenda echo another uncomfortable situation for the French leader three months ago, when the planned state visit of King Charles III to France was postponed due to violent protests against the pension changes.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he was watching France’s situation with concern.

“I hope very much, and I am convinced, that the French president will find ways for this situation to improve quickly,” he told ARD television. “I don’t expect France to become unstable, even if the pictures are of course very depressing.”

The U.S., the UK and China were among those that called on citizens to exercise caution when travelling to France.

Last month, after a climate summit, Kenya’s president William Ruto praised Macron’s deep involvement. “You have run this like Kenyans do ... like a marathon,” he told Macron.

The question now for Macron is whether he can marshal enough endurance to face the political situation at home.

“The problem is that he still has four more years ahead,” said Luc Rouban, a senior researcher at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS).

He noted that Macron has faced a succession of protests and street unrest, starting with the yellow vest movement against social injustice that broke out in 2018.

An increasing proportion of the population “rejects institutions” as part of a broader criticism of “a social order that involves inequalities, that is ... basically quite hypocritical, with school in particular not allowing people to succeed as it once did,” Rouban said.

Schools, city halls, police stations and other public institutions have been attacked.

Macron “doesn’t have much leeway except for distributing subsidies,” which is also difficult because of France’s heavy debt burden, Rouban said.

Last month, Macron hosted the global summit on climate and finance that brought over 50 heads of state and government and leaders of international organizations in the French capital, highlighting his international leadership.

Macron then travelled to Marseille last week to promote government efforts to inject billions into schools, housing and security and improve lives of residents of low-income neighbourhoods in France’s second largest city.

Macron is to meet Tuesday at the presidential palace with the mayors of over 220 towns and cities that have been concerned by incidents and damages in recent days.

Le Pen appears to the one coming out of the situation in a stronger position, Rouban said. She keeps positioning herself as the main political opposition to Macron, and continues her strategy of scrubbing the image of her far-right National Rally party, he said.

“These appalling events bring our leaders back to reality,” Le Pen said last week in a video posted on a social media account. “I intend to stick to our line of conduct, which is to do nothing to prevent or challenge the action of the legitimate authorities in charge of public order.”

On Paris’ Champs-Elysées Monday, workers were preparing Bastille Day festivities, setting up seating and barriers for crowds expected to attend the traditional military parade on July 14th with guest of honor Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India.

Another major deadline is looming: next year’s Olympics in Paris, suburbs and other French cities. Organizers and authorities promise the Games will be safe.

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