French minister launches new political movement ‘En Marche!’

Emmanuel Macron’s star is rising in a France desperate for a new generation of leaders

Emmanuel Macron: Both “Libération” and “Le Figaro” devoted four pages to him in their Friday editions. Photograph: Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images

Emmanuel Macron: Both “Libération” and “Le Figaro” devoted four pages to him in their Friday editions. Photograph: Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images

 

En Marche!” – “On the march!” or “Forward!” the French economy minister Emmanuel Macron baptised the political movement he launched in his home town of Amiens on Wednesday night.

Note the martial tone, the exclamation point. France is stalled, Macron is saying. He wants to “unblock” it.

One doesn’t have to look far for examples. President François Hollande recently abandoned legislation that would have stripped convicted terrorists of their French citizenship. It monopolised political life for months, and was the subject of 63 hours of parliamentary debate.

‘Macron mania’

By Thursday, 1,000 people were signing up for En Marche! every hour. Both Libération and Le Figaro devoted four pages to him in their Friday editions.

In another sign of France’s thirst for change, the other political sensation of the week was the advent of the “Nuit debout” movement, which occupied the Place de la République and several other places around the country. The still amorphous group opposes attempts to reform the labour code and aspires to be the French Podemos or Syriza.

Macron has always been the smartest kid in the class and teacher’s pet. He fell in love with his lycée French professor, Brigitte Trogneux, who is 19 years his senior, and married her.

In 2012, he took a 90 per cent pay cut to leave his job as a Rothschild investment banker to become Hollande’s economic adviser.

Hollande appointed Macron economy minister in August 2014, when the far left minister Arnaud Montebourg was sacked for accusing Hollande of allowing Germany to dictate French policies.

Like Montebourg, Macron has criticised government decisions, but with humour. He called the establishment of a 75 per cent top income tax rate (which was abolished after two years) “Cuba without the sun!”

Virtually unknown when he joined the government, Macron is now France’s blue-eyed boy. At age 38, he’s one of the youngest cabinet ministers. His rapid ascent shows that France is, at last, looking to a new generation of politicians. 

In an Odoxa poll in January, he was France’s second most popular politician, after the conservative presidential candidate Alain Juppé.

It’s an amazing feat for a man who has never been elected to political office. “In all of post-war French political history, one had never seen such a rapid breakthrough,” Guillaume Tabard wrote in Le Figaro.

The former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who supports Juppé, sees “no incompatibility between Emmanuel Macron and Alain Juppé”.  If Juppé promised to make Macron his prime minister, they’d be an unbeatable ticket.

Upstaged

If he stands for re-election, Hollande could promise to make Macron his prime minister, using the younger politician’s popularity to secure the support of the “social liberal” wing of the socialist party and the right.

In Amiens on Wednesday night, Macron said a presidential bid “is not my priority today”. The “today” was noticed. Like prime minister Manuel Valls, he clearly has an eye on the Élysée.

As the most unpopular president in modern French history, Hollande may see the wisdom of departing quietly. Macron has stolen Valls’s mantle as the administration’s chief reformer. The prime minister appeared annoyed by the En Marche! launch, saying it “would be absurd to try to erase” differences between left and right.

Macron’s main achievements were to persuade Hollande to reimburse €40 billion in social charges to French businesses, in the hope of making them more competitive, and a law that liberalised coach transportation and Sunday trading.

En Marche! initially listed the home of the wife of the head of a think tank close to business management as its mailing address.

His opponents point out that Macron shares responsibility for Hollande’s record. The rebel socialist deputy Christian Paul said Macron was “selling us a fairytale. He gives the impression he’s a newborn, when he’s one of the three or four people most responsible for economic policy since 2012, and thus for its failure”.

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