When newly anointed French President Macron strode boldly into the Louvre after his resounding victory in last year's French election, it was the European Union's anthem, Ode to Joy, which rang out behind him.

His defeat of Marine Le Pen and her far-right Front National party came at a time of immense precariousness for the EU, still reeling from the shocks of Brexit and Trump. All eyes in Brussels were upon his liberal insurgency.

Since then, he has indeed emerged as the dominant European envoy, building an alliance with Donald Trump and setting out his own vision for European integration. But it is at home, in France, that his legacy will ultimately be defined - and until recently the conventional wisdom has been that he faces an uphill battle.

As a candidate, Macron promised major structural reforms to modernise France's economy. Yet despite controlling both the presidency and the National Assembly, his explicit mandate for this is surprisingly weak. A survey after the election revealed that only 16 per cent of his voters were specifically motivated by his policy platform, compared to 43 per cent compelled to thwart Marine Le Pen.

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Sure enough, despite an early truce with the unions, strikes and protests have proliferated this year, with thousands of workers and students taking to the streets. Fears abound of a 1968-style uprising. But there are signs that the wind is starting to change.

Having navigated the immense challenge of travelling to and within France during industrial action, I spent a fortnight conducting focus groups across the country. An evolution of attitudes quickly became clear. For the first time, I heard questions about the fairness of les grèves, citing their inconvenience to fellow citizens and the profound damage they were inflicting on the country's tourism industry.

What's more, participants challenged the notion that they should automatically feel compelled to support strikes for working conditions that supersede their own.

Why, they asked, must they clamour behind employees luxuriating in some of the most generous wage, pension and leave arrangements known to man?

Industrial action was intended to support the voiceless and oppressed, they said, and now too often it has become a means of defending unreasonable conditions and stubbornly resisting change.

The radical nature of this transition cannot be understated. Solidarity is a critical component of the French psyche and is, particularly on the Left, key to its political identity. It is a communitarian aspect of French society that has gone hand-in-hand with the country's expansive welfare state, underpinning a shared sense of collective citizenship.

French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump. Picture / AP
French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump. Picture / AP

Macron's plans for welfare and economic reform emphasise choice, freedom and the individual to an extent utterly incompatible with the current model. His vision would unshackle businesses from some of the most prescriptive conditions in the developed world - a rupture comparable to the upheaval Margaret Thatcher unleashed in Britain some 30 years ago.

The French are wary of Macron, believing him to be superficial and obsessed with his image. Comparisons with the Iron Lady also unsettle, not least because the people have long been told to fear the "Anglo-Saxon model" as a bastion of ruthlessness and greed.

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Nevertheless, even those in my focus groups who voted for Le Pen appeared hesitant to condemn him with any vigour, arguing it is "too soon" to assess his performance. So too the media treads carefully, landing small blows but holding back from definitive judgment.

Behind this caution is an acute awareness that after so many years of sluggish growth and persistent unemployment, with poorly integrated communities and a political class defined by its singular commitment to dysfunction, Macron's presidency might just be France's one shot at definitive change.

Declining support for strikes may indicate that British-style individualism is on the rise, or simply the emergence of a more modern interpretation of Gallic solidarity. Either way, it shows that French people no longer see giving in to vocal, aggrieved minorities as the route to a better future for the whole country.