Archbishop Georges Pontier's call for a national unity will likely go unheeded as the nation heads for strikes and social unrest
It may not be getting a huge amount of attention, but today is a day of prayer for France called for by Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the French Bishops Conference. It is, he appealed, “a day on which we pray particularly for our country”. The Archbishop asked for “fraternity to become a reality.” It is also the day after the night before, the end of President Macron’s first 100 days in power.
Despite the promises of his victory day, not unlike the adulation that met President Obama, the French are, as Le Figaro reported, “falling out of love” with their new president. In an Ifop poll commissioned by Le Figaro, only 36 percent said they were satisfied with his actions, with 64 percent dissatisfied. Macron’s star has fallen rapidly, from a 64 per cent approval rating in late June to 54 per cent in late July, and now 36 per cent. Former socialist president François Hollande had a 46 percent satisfaction rating at the same point, which does not bode well since he became the most unpopular president in the Republic’s history.
Faith in free market economics, such as it is in France, is rapidly faltering along with Macron’s hope of reconciliation. There have been missteps, such as the row about the role his wife should play as first lady and bickering over the property tax. Macron wants to be a good European, which means enforcing the EU’s 3 per cent cap on deficit spending. He also wants to tackle absenteeism, which costs the state €170 million annually. Civil servants, who constitute 20 per cent of the French work force, are angered by the loss of their inflation-indexed salary rise. The issues are piling up.
The real battles, however, are still ahead.
A law enabling the government to rule by decree paves the way for reform of the labour code, and decrees will be presented to social partners on August 31st, followed by a cabinet meeting on September 21st. The call to allow French companies to “hire and fire” as easily as economies like Britain and America is at the heart of Macron’s labour reforms, but they also intentionally strike at the heart of French attitudes toward the economy. The communist CGT trade union has called for mass protests on September 12th, and then Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who calls the president “Monsieur le banquier,” will lead his Insoumis movement in a protest on the 23rd.
Amidst all this noise, it may be difficult to hear the archbishop’s call for reconciliation. He appealed to the French people, “Let us ask the Lord through the intercession of the Virgin Mary to raise up men and women, who in their ordinary life will live for others and with others…May the fraternity which is so desired become a reality…May it inspire our personal choices and the choices of those who exercise responsibilities at whatever level it may be.”
Calls by the archbishop for reconciliation may be heard by Catholics, but the problem is whether Macron can deliver social cohesion across the country. The Catholic daily Le Croix reports, “French Catholics want to rebuild dialogue among themselves despite ongoing concerns following this year’s divisive election campaign. They are hoping that President Emmanuel Macron will keep his promise of a “reconciled France”.”
The Gallic image of being ungovernable may be the result of the troubles of this French summer, especially if the words of François Ruffin, a documentary film-maker who is now a parliamentary deputy, are anything to go by. In an open letter published in Le Monde two days before the election, he had written “You are hated. You are hated, You are hated…I hammer it home because…with the bourgeoisie that surround you, you are socially deaf.”
The Archbishop has asked on this day of prayer for the French people to listen and to reconcile, but the spring hopes of Macron and summer prayers of Archbishop Pontier, are rapidly receding in the rear mirror as the Republic hurtles towards the autumn and a winter of discontent.