Emmanuel Macron’s ambitions received boost from ‘exotic’ Royal

Presidential candidates thrash out alliances while Fillon struggles with wife’s job scandals

In the photograph published on the front page of the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, the independent presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron and the former socialist candidate Ségolène Royal look like happy newlyweds.

The image dates from September 2014, when Macron was appointed economy minister in François Hollande’s administration.

Royal, the environment minister, was Hollande’s partner for 27 years and had four children with him. Though Macron initially found her a little too “exotic”, she judged “this little one” to be talented and well-mannered.

That judgement has been vindicated in recent weeks as Macron emerged as a leading candidate in the race to succeed Hollande as president of France in this year's election. The independent candidate could well end up in a second round run-off in May against the leader of the extreme right Front National, Marine Le Pen.


Macron (39) confided his presidential ambitions to Royal (63) long before making them public. When he declared his candidacy last December, she reportedly dispensed wisdom from her own failed campaign in 2007: “Politics is hard, Emmanuel. You think you’ve thought of everything, but it never happens that way. A presidential election is beyond anything you can imagine.”

She also told Macron “not to let Marine Le Pen breathe. Face her, blow by blow, rally by rally.”

Macron, Le Pen and the far left candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, will stage concurrent rallies in Lyon next weekend.

Though Royal has repeatedly praised Macron, she has not formally endorsed him. Their flirtation sums up the wheeling, dealing and realignments of this week, particularly the gravitational pull Macron exercises over centrist, reformist socialists. Their candidate, former prime minister Manuel Valls, lost the Socialist Party primary last Sunday.

New supporters

The predicted stampede from Benoît Hamon, the rebel from the far left who defeated Valls, to Macron has not yet happened, though Macron’s movement, En Marche! says 5,000 new supporters signed up the day after Hamon’s victory.

Tuesday brought strong statements from anti-Hamon socialists. “One can be socialist and appeal to vote for Macron,” said Jean-Marie Le Guen, a junior minister who is close to Valls.

Christophe Caresche and Gilles Savary, members of the "reformers' pole" in the National Assembly, signed an open letter in Le Monde proclaiming allegiance to the Socialist Party but condemning Hamon's programme as "based on a logic of welfare for everyone and the depreciation of the value of work".

Caresche and Savary said they refused to embark on “this uncertain adventure to which a radicalised left invites us”.

Hamon is torn between the need to prevent a mass exodus of socialist parliamentarians to the Macron camp by obtaining Hollande's support, and pressure to make a deal with Mélenchon, the other far left candidate, and ecologist candidate Yannick Jadot.

On Tuesday, a group led by two prominent ecologists published an appeal for Hamon, Jadot and Mélenchon to agree on a single candidate – who would obviously be Hamon.

Prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve made clear on Monday that Hamon would have to praise the record of the administration he has criticised for the past five years if he wants to gain the support of the socialist government. Hollande is expected to make the same demand when he receives Hamon on Thursday morning.

One might wonder if endorsement by the most unpopular president of the Fifth Republic would hurt Hamon more than it would help him.

Prominent coverage

Likewise, Le Figaro, which supports the conservative Les Républicains candidate, François Fillon, may have calculated that such prominent coverage of Macron's friendship with Royal could harm him.

Macron is eager to maintain his "neither right nor left" stance. "If 200 socialist officials join us from one day to the next, we risk resembling a repeat socialist party and scaring away voters," Christophe Castaner, a socialist deputy who has joined Macron's campaign, told Le Monde.

While his adversaries thrash out their alliances, Fillon continues to be mired in the “Penelopegate” scandal over two apparently phoney jobs for which his wife received generous salaries.

After the Fillons were questioned separately for five hours on Monday, investigators on Tuesday searched offices at the National Assembly in search of Penelope Fillon’s contracts as a parliamentary assistant.

The Canard Enchaîné broke the story a week ago. The edition to appear on newstands on Wednesday reports that Ms Fillon was paid more than €900,000, not €600,000 as previously believed. Two of the couple's five children were paid €84,000 as assistants to Fillon when he was a senator.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor