February 14, 2020
What defines political success nowadays?
Economic success is no longer a vote catcher. Fine Gael had counted on being credited for the growth surge in the Irish economy, but instead they lost the elections and come only third. French unemployment falls to a 12-year low, but voters do not want to hear about a Macron effect.
Unemployment was a political yardstick François Hollande used to measure his own success, but unemployment was still at 10% when Macron took over. Macron promised to bring unemployment down to 7% and, since he is in office, unemployment has indeed been falling. The 2019 Q4 figures suggest that his goal is indeed attainable. The unemployment is at 8.1% or 7.9% in France without overseas territories, a record low not seen since Q1 of 2009. Employment is rising too for all age groups, despite a modest economic growth rate of just 1.2% and social unrest last year. The figures suggest that France has moved from jobless growth to job-rich growth. Still, Macron's popularity is falling. Why?
Is the unemployment rate one of those statistical measures that do not capture peoples' everyday life experience? Recall that at the beginning of the eurozone, there was a gap between perceived inflation and measured inflation. French youth unemployment is still high and, even if employment increased, so did the statistical measure for inactivity.
Or is it that other events intrude to relegate the economy and unemployment to the back of voters' concerns? In Ireland, housing and health became top priorities as house prices and homelessness went up sharply and stories of overcrowded hospitals questioned the Irish success story. In France, the constant drip of pension reform quarrels and protest movements have put the government in a difficult and unpopular spot over the last couple of months. There are open displays of anger and hate against Macron, accumulated over two years of delivering reforms with his Jupiterian attitude. The upcoming municipal elections make Macron's party members nervous about whether or not they can withstand the anti-Macron mood at the local level.
So, the Élysée palace will have no time to celebrate what would otherwise be a big deal in French politics. The timing is just not right, and the good news gets lost in the avalanche of criticism.