January 3, 2019 / 12:35 PM / 9 months ago

Macron's spin doctor to leave Elysee as yellow-vest protests simmer

PARIS (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron’s head of media relations said on Thursday he would quit, a sign that a grueling reform drive and a spate of political scandal and street protests are starting to wear down his inner circle a year and a half into his mandate.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron attends a joint news conference with President of Burkina Faso Roch Marc Christian Kabore (not seen) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, December 17, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Pool/File Photo

Sylvain Fort, who shaped Macron’s campaign messaging during his presidential campaign and penned some of the young leader’s most memorable speeches, will leave the Elysee palace for “personal reasons”, government ministers said.

“After two years and a half of relentless work serving the candidate and later our president, I wish to pursue other professional and personal projects, and above all dedicate more time to my family,” Fort told French news agency AFP.

His resignation follows the departure of Macron’s political adviser late last year to lead the ruling party’s European parliament election campaign. Rumors are swirling in French media of other close advisers who may head out the door.

Privately, aides say the pace of reforms, Macron’s own hyperactivity, his frequent foreign trips and a relentless news cycle are taking their toll on even the most committed of his loyalists.

Fort, an opera buff and literature graduate from the elite ENS school, preferred the more reclusive role of chief speechwriter after Macron’s election victory in May 2017.

Macron persuaded Fort to return to a front-line media relations role last summer after the violent conduct of Macron’s former bodyguard and the Elysee’s attempted cover-up of the matter sent his popularity into a nosedive and raised questions about decision-making inside the president’s office.

Surrounded by a small coterie of close aides dubbed the “Macron boys”, the 41-year-old pushed through a series of reforms to liberalize the economy and cut taxes in his first 15 months in office.

But popular perceptions of an arrogant president whose monarchical style leaves him detached from the daily realities of most French people triggered street unrest in late 2018. The so-called “yellow vest” protests forced tax concessions and cast doubt over Macron’s ability to see through his reform agenda.

He wants to adopt stricter rules for unemployment benefits, merge varying pension plans into a single system, and create a leaner public sector - all prickly subjects that could give a new lease of life to the “yellow vests”.

In his New Year message, Macron, whose popularity rating is at a record low, was unrepentant as he promised to press on.

“In recent years, we’ve engaged in a blatant denial of reality,” he said. “We can’t work less, earn more, cut taxes and increase spending.”

Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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