Emmanuel Macron lost his cool during a walkabout in Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday and television cameras captured the moment for posterity. “Everybody knows the rules,” shouted the president of France, directing his wrath at Israeli security officials. “I don’t like what you did in front of me. Go outside!”
The confrontation took place outside the Church of Saint Anne, a possession of the French government which is regarded as French territory. According to reports Macron snapped when Israeli security men attempted to accompany him into the church.
It’s not the first time that a French president has had a fit of Gallic pique in Jerusalem; Jacques Chirac famously clashed with some Israeli soldiers in 1996, asking of them in English less fluent than Macron’s if “you want me to go back to my plane?”
But Macron’s meltdown is a sign of the pressure he’s under on all fronts. It’s also, if one may be topical, his Meghan moment.
Like Meghan, Macron took the job expecting to be treated with due reverence. That’s how he set out his stall on the night of election victory in May 2017, walking regally through the courtyard of the Louvre to address his subjects. He had the press eating out of his hand at home and abroad (remember that Economist front cover of him walking on water under the headline ‘Europe’s Saviour?’). For a while he could do no wrong. But then, like Meghan, it all began to go pear-shaped in the court of public opinion.
“What Meghan wants, Meghan gets” is what Prince Harry allegedly shouted at a senior Palace aide on the eve of his wedding in a row over a certain tiara. Macron, too, has grown up expecting to get what he wants.
He first set his eyes on his future wife Brigitte when he was only 15 and she, his schoolteacher, was a 39-year-old married woman with children. Money was his next desire and he made plenty of that in a short space of time. And then in 2016 he set his heart on the presidency. Twelve months later, voila.
But Macron, like Meghan, has discovered that status doesn’t bring with it unconditional respect; that has to be earned. Neither has managed it. And both have shown an uncanny knack for irritating the hoi polloi. With Meghan it’s her hypocrisy; with Macron it’s his haughtiness.
In the case of the French president, it’s not just his attitude that has alienated people. Meghan entered the Royal Family on a wave of affection, her wedding in April 2018 greeted with near-universal acclaim.
Macron entered the Elysée Palace because the majority of his people were given a choice between him and Marine Le Pen and they decided he was the lesser of two evils. But Macron never grasped that fact. Soon he began belittling French people as lazy or losers. This explains why his approval rating dropped from an initial 66 per cent to 23 per cent within 18 months of taking office.
That’s roughly how long it took the British people to fall out of love with Meghan, who shares many of Macron’s progressive ideals, particularly on climate change. It was that issue, specifically the imposition of a ‘green’ diesel fuel tax, that sparked the Yellow Vest protests in November 2018, a social uprising that in recent weeks has expanded to include the millions of Frenchmen and women angry at Macron’s pension reforms.
Macron must have flown to Israel hoping for a brief respite from his domestic woes but now he’s in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Perhaps his temper snapped after a long day trying to explain to Benjamin Netanyahu why it is that a third of France’s Jewish population feels their religion makes them a target in their own country.
Macron clearly likes to be the one in control. And as his little tantrum in Jerusalem showed, his ego is easily bruised. But whereas a minor member of the Royal Family can disappear to a country where’s she’ll be treated with the respect she damned well deserves, the president of France has no such option.
If an opinion poll published this week is anything to go by, Macron may soon have little choice but to ‘step back’ from presidential duties. Asked if they think their president will be re-elected in 2022, 69 per cent of those surveyed said no.
But will Macron even stand for re-election? Marine Le Pen has confirmed she will be a candidate. But from Macron there has been no word as yet. Who knows, perhaps he has decided he could have an easier life – a more lucrative one – away from the Elysée Palace. He could return to banking and make millions in the City of London, free from the unappreciative French, perhaps? He’d need somewhere to live but apparently there’s a recently refurbished cottage in Windsor in need of a tenant.