* Reshuffle triggered by resignation on ecology minister
* Macron’s popularity hitting new lows
* Reform drive facing economic headwinds
By Richard Lough
PARIS, Sept 4 (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron hopes to draw a line under a raft of troubles plaguing his 16-month-old presidency and to re-energise his economic reform drive with a cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday
Macron was forced into the move by the surprise exit of his former ecology minister, Nicolas Hulot, who said he despaired at what he felt were hollow commitments on environmental policy.
Resigning live on air last week, Hulot’s resignation was a setback for the 40-year-old French leader, who returned from the summer break reeling from a bodyguard scandal and preparing to embark on a new wave of economic reforms.
Benjamin Griveaux, government spokesman, said the cabinet would be complete in time for Wednesday morning’s weekly cabinet meeting but was tight-lipped on the scope of the rejig.
Hours before the expected announcement, Sports Minister Laura Flessel said she was resigning from the government for personal reasons.
“I will continue to be a faithful team mate of the president and prime minister, whose determination I admire and whose values and patriotism I share,” said Flessel, a former Olympic fencing champion and one of Macron’s most popular ministers.
For much of Macron’s first year in power, the former investment banker appeared untouchable, self-assured and unphased by his falling popularity as he pushed through investor-friendly reforms with a business-like efficiency.
Recently, however, Macron has looked more vulnerable.
Economic growth is slower than forecast, undermining his deficit-busting credentials. Usually decisive, he is wavering on an impending tax collection reform. Meanwhile, voters are growing impatient with his monarchical style and sharp tongue.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen to this president. He promised to be audacious in his reforms, efficient in the exercise of power, and the embodiment of dignity. In his first few months the promise was kept, but now everything is going wrong,” the right-leaning Le Figaro said in an editorial on Monday.
Macron has sold its pro-business reform drive on promises that it will boost growth and jobs, but voters spanning typically conservative pensioners to low-income workers complain the president’s policies favour big business and the wealthy.
Next up for his centrist government is tackling social spending — a delicate political balancing act as he seeks to restore credibility with left-leaning voters — just as weaker-than-forecast growth puts pressure on the budget deficit and his popularity plumbs new lows.
Macron’s election victory, which blew apart France’s mainstream parties and halted the march of the far-right National Front party, delighted French business and urban, liberal voters.
But prone to haughty and at times condescending remarks, he has struggled to connect with common folk.
An IFOP-Fiducial opinion poll on Tuesday showed just 31 percent of respondents were happy with his performance as support eroded across all ages on both the political left and right.
That is lower than his predecessor Francois Hollande at the same stage in the socialist’s presidency. Hollande went on to become so unpopular he was the first president in France’s Fifth Republic not to run for re-election.
“It’s something of a ‘year zero’ for Emmanuel Macron. The slate is being wiped clean, even his popularity is starting at zero again. Everything has to be rebuilt,” said Philippe Moreau Chevrolet of the Sciences Po political school in Paris.
In a rare moment of humility, Macron on Monday acknowledged the challenges of his job to a class of young school students: “There are some days which are easy, and others which are not.”
Reporting by Richard Lough; additional reporting by Ardee Napolitano; Editing by Angus MacSwan