In an era of chaotic and surprising election results, perhaps the most startling is the victory of Emmanuel Macron as President of France. Ignoring years of dominance by the traditional political parties, he created a brand new party, En Marche! and disrupted the whole French establishment. Still in his 30s, who is this new force on the world stage? Can he succeed in uniting France and saving the European project? And, as we enter the choppy waters of Brexit, should we be worried about this determined young man? Profile by Ian Trevett
In the end the election of Emmanuel Macron was no surprise. The final showdown was a straight battle between the centrist ex-banker and the far-right figurehead Marine Le Pen, President of the Front National. Le Pen had attempted to distance the party from its image of racism, anti-semitism and Vichy-apologism, but the French people ultimately rejected the divisive vision of Le Pen. Macron romped home, taking 65% of the vote.
The surprise was that he was the last man standing to take on Le Pen. To reach the final round of voting he (and Le Pen) brushed aside generations of political history, wiping out Les Républicains (the French equivalent of the Conservative party recently lead by Nicolas Sarkozy) and the Parti Socialiste (similar to the Labour Party, formerly headed by François Hollande).
Soon after the Presidential Elections, Macron consolidated his power in the French Parliamentary Elections, where En Marche! in coalition with another centrist party won a landslide 350 seats out of a total of 577.
To put this in context, on the eve of the Parliamentary Elections, the New Statesman’s European correspondent, Pauline Bock wrote: “The entire French left is about to disintegrate. It’s as if the Labour party disappeared overnight.” And it wasn’t much better for the Républicains.
Bock summarised Macron’s achievement: “The rise of Macron and En Marche! has shattered the accepted wisdom of French politics: 39 is too young for a president; one cannot be “neither left nor right”; a career in the private sector does not lead to politics; no one can run for the presidency without the support of a pre-existing party.”
Everything changes. Such is the disillusionment of politics that the support of a pre-existing party may now be the kiss of death. Will Hutton wrote, “It has become obvious that neither the left nor right has the philosophical or intellectual wherewithal to make France work. An ancien régime of tired and corrupt conservative and socialist politicians, indissolubly linked to the ‘immobilisme’ that has plagued France, has been swept away… Nor should anyone underestimate the profound dissatisfaction across France with the status quo. Some 90% of Parisians voted En Marche! – the capital, as in Britain, foretells opinion and events.”
En Marche! (translated: On the Move) began initially in April 2106 as a political club, a door-to-door operation in which volunteers asked the public what was wrong with France. Three months later, more than 3,000 people attended its first event in Paris. The movement welcomed people of all political parties, allowing them to sign up for free online. It is run more like a disruptive tech startup than a traditional political party.
The result is a whole new generation of elected politicians - around half of the candidates are political novices, drawn from diverse backgrounds including academia and business. They include a mathematician, a former bullfighter and anti-corruption magistrates.
The Macron revolution can reinvigorate France - but it may not all be good news for the UK.
The View from the UK 1
So here’s to you, Mrs Auziere
Macron? Isn’t he the one who married his teacher?
Now he is President, finally the focus is on Macron’s political plans and how they will affect Brexit, rather than his, shall we say, unorthodox domestic arrangement.
Macron was studying at a Catholic school in Amiens when he took on the lead role in the school play at the age of 15. The teacher was 39-year-old Brigitte Auziere, a married mother of three. Her daughter Laurence was in the same class as the young Emmanuel. Brigitte was clearly impressed by young Emmanuel’s acting skills.
Seeds of a romance, which last to this day, began when Macron was still at school and under the age of consent. There is no evidence of sexual liaisons at this age, but the connection was immediate. Even without proof of intimacy, could this not be interpreted as grooming? Certainly if the genders were reversed, this would of been a much more serious matter. Double standards?
Macron’s parents were stunned when they learned that he was romantically involved with his teacher. They believed their son was actually in love with her daughter Laurence. They promptly removed him from school and sent him to finish his education in Paris.
Macron’s mother told biographer, Anne Fulda, that she told Brigitte: “Don’t you see. You’ve had your life. But he won’t have children with you.”
But Brigitte refused to promise the parents that she would stay away and told them: “I cannot promise you anything.”
However Fulda also wrote: “Emmanuel’s parents were keen on emphasising that they did not lodge a complaint against Brigitte Auziere for corruption of a minor.”
Macron vowed to marry Brigitte when he was just 17. As for Brigitte, she simply says, “Nobody will ever know at what moment our story became a love story. That belongs to us. That is our secret.”
The issue seems to have barely registered in France. In fact, the only time sexual relationships intervened in the election campaign was when rumours circulated of a homosexual liaison with Radio France chief executive Mathieu Gallet.
Macron dismissed the rumours with a reference to a rival candidate making an earlier appearance as a ‘hologram’: “If you’re told I lead a double life with Mr Gallet it’s because my hologram has escaped,” he said.
If the 39-year-old teacher had been the male and the the student female, it could have been a very different story - surely resulting in arrest for underage sex or the grooming of a minor. Instead it is presented as an enduring love story. The couple, at least in public, seem to have a great deal affection for each other and they remain together some 24 years later.
The View from the UK 2
A threat to the City?
From the UK perspective, Macron is not just a charming young politician disrupting old political institutions. He could be a serious threat to our wealth, power and prosperity.
For years, the French have sat by helplessly as their top bankers, financiers, IT experts and economists have crossed the channel and helped the City of London’s drive for world dominance in the financial markets. French newspaper Le Figaro reports that an estimated 60,000 French people work just in the financial centres of The City of London and Canary Wharf. As a fellow member of the EU, they could do nothing - free movement of labour (and brain power) lies at the heart of the entire project.
Brexit changes all that. Or at least that’s what France hoped. The reality was actually looking very different. There have been many stories from the city about French officials trying to persuade banks and institutions to relocate to Paris - only to be met with laughter.
Why would a city firm move to France with its high taxes, inflexibility and rigid rights for workers. Brexit or no Brexit, London was always going to win.
But with Macron as President, all bets are off and recruitment firms are already sensing a change in the air. Sarah Butcher, from efinancialcareers.com writes, “The City of London is a city of French bankers. Graduates from top French schools have long been the brainpower behind the City’s supremacy in structured products and are now helping to create the new generation of risk management systems and artificial intelligence products.
“Now that one of their own is in the Elysee Palace will these storied French bankers who’ve helped make the City what it is want to go home again? For some at least, the answer is yes.
“One French Managing Director at a Swiss bank in London said, “You have one country inviting us home and the other that’s sadly pushing us out! The energy in France from Macron’s election is something we crave and it’s something that that’s been sorely missing in London lately.”
So how serious a problem is this?
The City of London’s Brexit envoy Jeremy Browne has warned UK Treasury Ministers that Macron’s France has effectively declared open war on London’s Square Mile:
“The clear messages emanating from Paris are not just the musings of a rogue senior official in the French government or central bank. France could not be clearer about their intentions. They see Britain and the City of London as adversaries, not partners.”
“… French representatives crashing around London’ offering big sums to firms to move to Paris.
“The meeting with the French Central Bank was the worst I have had anywhere in the EU. They are in favour of the hardest Brexit. They want disruption. They actively seek disaggregation of financial services provision.”
With cash incentives and Macron’s determination to take on the rigid labour laws and restrictions on working hours, the City of London is starting to look very nervous.
Macron is even stealing a march on our treasured ‘special relationship’ with America. Whatever Macron may think of Donald Trump, he is a pragmatist, and he went out of his way to make Trump very welcome at the country’s Bastille Day celebrations - including an uncomfortably long handshake.
Trump showered compliments on his host: “Our two nations are forever joined together by the spirit of revolution and the fight for freedom.
“France is America’s first and oldest ally - a lot of people don’t know that.”
The EU was created to keep competing nations under one roof, but old habits die hard. Our relationship with France could be a story that comes to the fore again in coming years.
Can Macron make France great again?
Before their love-in on Bastille Day, Trump and Macron had been sniping at each other. When Trump declared his contempt of the Paris Climate Agreement, Macron taunted Trump by distorting Donald’s slogan to: ‘Make Our Planet Great Again’.
But can he make France great again? The country is not exactly flat-lining, but there is a disillusionment with politicians (marked by a very low turn-out at the elections) and the country can often look divided.
The FT’s Martin Wolf writes, “France is no basket case. It is a wealthy country with excellent infrastructure and public services. According to the International Monetary Fund, the purchasing power of French gross domestic product per head was the same as that of the UK in 2016… French labour productivity per hour is the same as Germany’s and 28% above the UK’s. Its distribution of disposable income is far less unequal than in the US or UK
“So what are its economic problems? Essentially, there are three: low employment; the low rate of economic growth; and the sheer scale of public spending.”
Macron’s plan is to make the French labour laws and public spending levels more aligned to ours. Much of our legislation around union power, working hours and rights surrounding dismissals have been a result of the battles between Mrs Thatcher and the unions in the 1980s. The defeat of the Miners Strike in 1985 left the union movement almost powerless to oppose any workplace legislations they would have previously fought.
In France, the influence of the unions remains and this power is best illustrated with the 35-hour working week. In the UK, the maximum is 48 hours, but few people even know this, as it can be easily side-stepped with the agreement of the employee. French employers also have to allow workers 11 consecutive hours of rest between each working day. And it is far more difficult to make a French worker redundant.
These rights are cherished by French workers and any attempt to interfere with these is soon met by fierce street protests.
Macron seems determined to take these issues face on, as well as reduce public spending. John Cassidy in The New Yorker comments, “On the French left, he is widely seen as the Gallic equivalent of Tony Blair, a youthful figure intent on forcing trade unions and workers to submit to the rigors of the global market.”
Macron is committed to ensure French budget deficit is brought under the EU-imposed limit of 3% of GDP — for the first time in years. In doing so, he aims to gain the respect of Angela Merkel, so he can forward his own EU agenda with her in partnership.
He strives for deeper eurozone integration. Cassidy reports, “Macron supports open borders, free trade, free movement of labor, and greater efforts to accommodate refugees and assimilate Muslim minorities—all of which are under threat. His big idea is that, by showing that France is capable of serious internal reforms, the country will be able to persuade Germany to shift the E.U. toward a less austere economic policy, one more favorable to growth.”
The question is can he do it? He is unburdened by party divides and has a strong mandate from the Parliamentary Elections. But the demos have already started. The protestors turned out in force when Trump came to France, but most vitriol seemed to be aimed at Macron’s attacks on labour rights. Compared to Le Pen, he is undoubtedly a moderate, but he is fast becoming the left’s new bogeyman. The question, therefore, is: is he strong enough to force his reforms through?
Paul Taylor from Politico Europe (a Brussels-based European affairs weekly newspaper) can see a steely strength in Macron:
“In this era of illiberal authoritarianism, Emmanuel Macron is trademarking a paradoxical brand: the liberal strongman.
“… With bone-crunching handshakes and plain speaking, he seems determined to show himself as much the alpha male on the global stage as Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin or Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, but in the cause of liberal values — multilateral governance, open trade, human rights and diversity — that makes him the antithesis of their nationalist ideologies.
“… Macron’s role models are De Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand, each of whom had grand, long-term objectives — decolonisation and modernisation for the former, social justice and European integration for the latter — that enabled France to punch above its weight on the world stage. Macron’s objectives are a fusion of theirs: economic reform and European integration.”
It certainly appears he is a man to watch.
Who is Emmanuel Macron?
Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron was born on December 21, 1977, in Amiens, France. The eldest child of two doctors, Macron distinguished himself with his intellect at an early age, displaying an aptitude for literature, politics and theatre. His teacher, Mrs Auziere, at the local Jesuit school La Providence, certainly spotted potential in the young Emmanuel.
Macron completed his high school education at the prestigious Lycée Henri IV in Paris. He went on to study philosophy at Nanterre University and public affairs at Sciences Po, before graduating from the elite École Nationale d’Administration in 2004. His brother and sister also excelled and both pursued a career in medicine following in the footsteps of their parents; his younger brother became a cardiologist and his sister a nephrologist.
After graduation, Macron went to work for the French Finance Ministry as an inspector. Forging powerful connections, he was tapped by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007 to join the Attali Commission on economic growth.
The following year, Macron left civil service for the world of investment banking at Rothschild & Co. He rose through the ranks to become managing director, earning renown for his role in advising Nestlé’s $12 billion acquisition of a division of Pfizer in 2012.
When Socialist Party leader François Hollande was elected President in 2012, Macron became deputy secretary-general, focusing on economic and financial matters. One success was brokering a compromise with Germany over the eurozone crisis.
In 2014, Macron was named France’s minister of economy, industry and digital data, but he became disillusioned with the party, and in 2016 he set up formed a new centrist party called En Marche!
There can be few politicians with such an understanding of business, and this will be a great asset for Macron. He could become a difficult opponent for the UK, when it comes to attracting and retaining businesses and financial institutions. Brexit will place Macron on the other side of the table.
This is a shame, as I admire this politician and what he has already achieved. He looks comfortable on the world stage and has a strong vision, determination and energy. Certainly our current crop of leaders or would-be leaders do not match up well against Monsieur Macron.
I would wish him well, but I fear that his success may be to our detriment.