Yesterday, on July 3rd, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced his resignation and that of his government, which President Macron has accepted. The announcement follows disappointing results for the President’s party La République en Marche (LREM) in the latest local elections on June 28 as the Green Party seized major cities throughout France.
Philippe leaves the French Government on a somewhat positive note: research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies in late June found that 41% of French respondents approve and 32% disapprove of Philippe’s conduct over the course of the pandemic. Notably, we found that 69% of those who voted for Emmanuel Macron in 2017 approved of his behaviour, despite the fact that Philippe is not part of Macron’s party.
Edouard Philippe’s approval ratings during the coronavirus pandemic were noticeably higher than those of President Macron and the rest of the French Government. Indeed, 34% of French voters approved and 39% disapproved of Macron’s behaviour during the pandemic, which essentially constitutes the opposite of Philippe’s figures. Likewise, Philippe’s popularity is noticeably higher than that of other members of the French Government, including Minister of the Interior Christopher Castaner (only 20% approve) and Government Spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye (only 16% approve).
The Prime Minister’s decision to step down is not unusual in French politics. Three Prime Ministers were in office during the presidency of Francois Hollande, for instance. Indeed, Presidents usually take the opportunity of a prime ministerial resignation to pivot their presidency towards a focus on new policy areas. For President Macron, Philippe’s resignation could serve as a means to turn the page following LREM’s poor results in recent local elections. On the other hand, Philippe’s departure could be seen as a worrying development by Macron: just two years before the next Presidential election, Mr Philippe (who never joined Macron’s party) could indeed become a serious contender to the President.
In the meantime, Edouard Philippe will be replaced by Jean Castex, formerly in charge of France’s exit strategy following the lockdown. Castex, a low-profile politician, is a former member of centre-right party The Republicans and a former advisor to President Nicolas Sarkozy. Within the party, Castex was perceived as more socially conservative than his colleagues, and he has served as mayor of Prade in the Pyrenees since 2008. We at Redfield & Wilton Strategies will continue to monitor the response of the French electorate to these changes.