French leaders on the left and right reacted dismissively to Emmanuel Macron’s declaration of his candidacy for the French presidential election next spring.
Macron (38) launched a political movement bearing his own initials, En marche!! (Forward!) last April, and resigned from his job as economy minister in August.
En Marche! claims 96,000 followers, and Macron scores around 50 per cent in popularity ratings.
“My objective is not to unite the right, nor to unite the left, but to unite the French,” Macron said on announcing his candidacy in a 20-minute speech on Wednesday. His neither/nor status has antagonised rivals on both sides.
Guillaume Tabard of the newspaper Le Figaro called Macron "a political Unidentified Flying Object". The political scientist Pascal Perrineau says he is "the left-wing candidate whom the right dreams of".
Macron’s candidacy is a headache for the ruling socialists, because he has upstaged his former mentor, President François Hollande. Hollande won’t say until next month if he’ll stand for re-election.
Macron doesn’t want to participate in the socialist primary in January. If he diverts socialist votes from their official candidate, depriving the party of a place in the run-off, Macron will be seen as the gravedigger of the left.
If Hollande doesn’t run, prime minister
sees himself as the natural replacement. The long wait is creating tension between them. Valls was long the young hope of the Rocardian strain of the
, a reference to the former prime minister Michel Rocard, who died earlier this year. Now Valls sees Macron, 17 years his junior, trying to fill that role.
“One needs experience [to govern), an experience that has been tested by time,” Valls said on Wednesday, reacting to Macron’s announcement. Macron was a banker at Rothschild, then Hollande’s economic adviser at the Élysée, before moving to the economy ministry. His main achievement there was to deregulate coach traffic. He has never held elected office, and this presidential race is his first political campaign.
The timing of his announcement was also awkward for the conservative Les Républicains (LR), who will hold their final debate on Thursday night, and the first round of their primary election on Sunday.
Because Macron appeals to the same affluent, ageing and centrist electorate as the LR front-runner Alain Juppé, Juppé has most to lose from Macron's candidacy. If Juppé voters stay home because they would rather vote for Macron, it will help the former president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Juppé called Macron “the white knight” and described his idea of more flexible working hours for older employees as “silly”.
Asked if he feared losing votes to Macron, Juppé said, “It’s first of all a problem for François Hollande and the left . . . Macron represents the betrayal of François Hollande, whom he stabbed in the back.”
Since Donald Trump’s victory in the US, French presidential hopefuls – including Macron – are clamouring to portray themselves as anti-establishment.
In the speech announcing his candidacy, Macron said he had “seen from the inside the vacuity of our political system, which shuts down most ideas on the grounds they weaken the apparatus . . . the political system has become the main obstacle to the transformation of our country.”
“One mustn’t be naïve,” Juppé retorted. “
totally approved of the economic policy carried out since 2012, starting with the massive tax hike.”
Macron delivered his own diagnosis of what ails France. The country "has left the path of progress", he said. "We have not resolved the problem of mass unemployment, the abandonment of [rural] territories, the languor of Europe, internal divisions. France is blocked by sectoral interests . . . At the same time, we have entered a new era: globalisation, digitalisation, climate change, growing inequality . . ."
Macron's rivals would doubtless draw up the same list. Like him, all say, "La solution c'est moi".
Macron's youth, intelligence and good looks clearly have the other candidates worried. Earlier this week, Le Monde newspaper published two pages regarding the rumours his opponents are spreading about him.
These include allegations that Macron's wife Brigitte, who is 24 years older than him, is the driving force behind his ambition, and/or that he is secretly gay. In an interview with Le Point last May, Sarkozy encouraged that rumour by saying that Macron was "part man, part woman, that's the fashion at the moment. Androgynous".