Emmanuel Macron has been compared to a cult leader over a new law which would make it mandatory to hang the portrait of the president in all French town halls.
The legislation, proposed by two members of Mr Macron’s party, has passed its first reading in the French parliament, where MPs attacked the measure for being tone deaf at a time of violent protests and plummeting poll ratings.
Antoine Léaument, from the La France Insoumise (LFI) party, accused Mr Macron’s Renaissance party of becoming the “cult of the leader” and called on mayors across France “to take down portraits of Macron” in protest.
“Tonight, the Macronists made it mandatory to display the portrait of Emmanuel Macron in all town halls. Do they really want us to hate [Macron] more?” said Ugo Bernalicis, another politician from LFI, shortly after the bill was approved.
The protests over the portrait come during a fraught time for Mr Macron who has seen his popularity plummet to 26 per cent after railroading through a pension age increase from 62 to 64.
Nationwide protests over the reforms have swept France for weeks.
During a debate on the law, one of Mr Macron’s MPs, Denis Masséglia, defended the move, saying that “town halls are like the house of the French of the French people.
“So the portrait of the president – whoever it is – should be displayed there out of respect for the democratic vote,” he added.
The portrait plans are part of a wider proposal to require town halls with 1,500 inhabitants or more to display the French and European flags.
The president, who was re-elected for a second term in 2022, has struggled to shake off accusations of arrogance and pompousness dating back to when he was the economy minister under socialist president Francois Hollande.
In one exchange from 2016 Mr Macron, wearing a €1,600 suit, was filmed telling a trade unionist that “the best way to afford a suit is to work”.
He also told an unemployed gardener looking for work that he could find him a job simply “by crossing the street”.
“I wake up at 6am every morning looking for work,” the gardener later told the French daily La Dépeche after the president’s comments were cited as rude and dismissive.
During the 2018 Yellow Vest protests he was dubbed a “president of the rich”.
The “flag” bill still needs to be debated in the senate, then sent back to the lower house before being passed into law.
Some lawmakers on the hard-Right have also expressed distaste for the bill over its requirement for town halls to display the blue and yellow European flag alongside the French one.
“There are only three colours to which the French bow,” said Jean-Philippe Tanguy, a lawmaker with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party. “Blue, white, and red.”
Mathieu Lefevre, an MP loyal to Mr Macron who shepherded the text through parliament, replied: “People who have trouble concealing their unease before the flag with stars [of the EU] have just as much trouble hiding their dreams of Frexit.”
He accused both France’s hard-Left and far-Right of harbouring ambitions to follow Britain out of the EU.
The bill also requires town halls to hang the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which harks back to the French Revolution. In addition it says their facades should bear the French Republic’s motto of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite.
Others, notably the centrist MoDem party, have called the proposal “useless”, insisting the government has more pressing concerns to debate.
“We don’t see this as an emergency,” MoDen lawmaker Jean-Louis Bourlanges told FranceInfo radio on Tuesday.
Mr Bourlanges went on: “the French expect many things from the government”, but not this particular measure, which he cast off as an “extremely secondary concern”.