French president Emmanuel Macron capitulated to weeks of violent protest by the gilets jaunes and gave in on several policies, including increasing the minimum wage next year. His speech scored as many viewers as France’s win in the World Cup.
In retreating on most of his signature economic policies, Macron also seems to have formed a strange friendship. As Marine Pennetier and Michel Rose of Reuters point out, Macron seems to be spending a lot of time with former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. They lunched together at the Élysée Palace on Dec. 7, just before the most aggressive of the “yellow vest” protest weekends—labelled Act IV in France—that prompted Macron’s capitulation.
According to Le Figaro (link in French), they discussed two issues of familiarity with Sarkozy. “The issue of maintaining public order—a concern of the former head of state—and the return to tax-free hours—a strong measure of [Sarkozy’s] five-year term,” a source told the French newspaper, referring to a tax exemption for overtime work that Sarkozy first proposed.
Macron also sent Sarkozy to Georgia to represent at the inauguration of that country’s new president, reflecting Sarkozy’s role in mediating Georgia’s conflict with Russia in 2008.
It’s another strange comeback for Sarkozy, president of France from 2007 to 2012. After losing his last election, he vowed to leave politics—before returning in 2014 to take over the right-wing UMP, which he renamed Les Républicains. Despite that, he could not actually win the party’s nomination to contest the May 2017 presidential election, which Macron eventually won. The Reuters reporters suggest the new friendship was Macron signaling his law-and-order credentials to right-wing voters following the protests, as well as undermining the current leader of Les Républicains, Laurent Wauquiez.
While it might seem strange for one unpopular leader to take advice from another, this is France. Every leader is unpopular. Each is triumphantly elected and subsequently loathed.
Sarkozy, for example, was the first president in France who failed to be re-elected since 1981. He was succeeded by François Hollande, the the least popular president in French history—so much so that he was the first since World War II not to seek re-election. Even the founder of the Fifth Republic, Charles de Gaulle, was ousted in 1969 after a series of street protests and a failed attempt at constitutional reform.
Macron was forced to delay attempts at constitutional reform earlier this year.