French President Emmanuel Macron. Picture: LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL VIA REUTERS
French President Emmanuel Macron. Picture: LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL VIA REUTERS

Paris — French President Emmanuel Macron will be forced to revamp his communications team after his top adviser announced he is quitting at the end of the month.

Press chief Sylvain Fort is leaving the Elysée palace for personal reasons, officials at the president’s office said on Thursday.

The French leader could lose a second key aide in the coming weeks with Europe 1 radio reporting that strategy chief Ismaël Emelien, Macron’s strategy chief since 2014, is also looking to resign. An Elysée press officer declined to comment on Emelien’s situation.

Fort’s departure comes with Macron’s popularity on the slide and his plans for sweeping reforms opposed by the Yellow Vests protesters, who blocked highways and demonstrated in Paris last month. While Macron has targeted European elections in May to show that he remains a political force, his efforts to combat the rising tide of nationalism have been hit by a series of setbacks.

The Elysée press officer gave no indication of who will replace Fort and offered few details about how the team will be set up after his departure. Sibeth Ndiaye, the deputy communication aide who has been in Macron’s team since he was economy minister in 2014, will stay at the palace, according to Macron’s office.

After vaulting from the periphery of French politics to seize the presidency in 2017, the past year has posed a major test to his resilience with the defection of key ministers; questions about his handling of a scandal over his personal bodyguard; a series of communication blunders; and the Yellow Vests revolt against economic hardship outside the capital that is still simmering away.

Not even halfway through his five-year mandate, most pollsters show his approval rating below 30% and Ipsos has him at 20%, on par with his predecessor, François Hollande, who went on to become the most unpopular president in French history.

Both Fort and Emelien have been with Macron since his early days in politics and were devoted supporters of the young president. Macron’s reliance on a small coterie of advisers and assistants helped propel him to power 20 months ago but has also led to criticism that he’s out of touch after a series of stumbles.

In September, Macron tried to bring a new impetus to his press team by putting his speech writer, Fort, in charge. Fort pledged to make communications more open, but there have been few signs of that and he riled French journalists by sticking to a plan to move the press room outside of the Elysée .