In a nuanced human drama unfolding in the background of the French presidential race, the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron (39) seeks to distance himself from his former mentor, the outgoing president Francois Hollande (62), even as Hollande sends unwanted messages of support through the media.
Macron was Hollande’s economic adviser at the Élysée Palace, then economy minister. When he resigned last year to pursue the presidency, he was careful not to anger Hollande.
"Emmanuel Macron came to tell me that he wanted to launch a movement. I didn't discourage him," Hollande told Le Point magazine on Thursday. "I consider that politics needs renewal, and that there was no reason to oppose his attempt. His gamble seemed daring to me, to say the least."
Macron is often referred to as the “spiritual son” of Hollande, who is the most unpopular president of the Fifth Republic. It may be mere coincidence, but since the conservative candidate François Fillon started calling Macron “Emmanuel Hollande”, Macron’s rating in opinion polls has stalled and fallen slightly. He nonetheless remains the front-runner in the election.
In a testament-style interview with the presidential historian Franz-Olivier Giesbert for Le Point, Hollande promised to state his choice of successor between the first round vote on April 23rd and the second round on May 7th.
“Until then, I have confidence in the intelligence of the French who want new action built on what I have done,” Hollande said, clearly referring to Macron.
The online pop culture magazine Konbini asked Hollande for his election advice to the French. "What I say is we must continue," Hollande replied. "We must go towards those who are following up in the same vein . . . History does not stop. So we must go towards the march of progress."
Macron's movement is called "En marche!" and he claims to represent progress against entrenched conservatism.
Despite Macron’s attempts to hold Hollande at arm’s length, the president’s repeated allusions to him have undermined painstaking efforts by the candidate to dissociate himself from Hollande’s failed term. Questions from journalists and the widespread knowledge that Hollande is rooting for him are forcing Macron into rhetorical parricide.
In an April 4th interview with Le Monde, Macron pointed out that his opponents call him both Hollande's "heir" and "a traitor, a Brutus", who abandoned Hollande to launch a a solo run for the presidency.
“It’s ludicrous . . . so absurd that it’s becoming laughable,” Macron protested. “I broke off with Francois Hollande, for we had deep disagreements.”
Unlike Hollande, Macron said, “I will not claim to be a ‘normal’ president. I intend to be a president who presides.”
Macron continued to reject Hollande's mantle in an interview with France 2 television on April 6th. "I am not him," he said. "I am profoundly different. I give meaning to what I do . . . I am more decisive."
Though he often repeats that he has “never lacked respect for Francois Hollande, neither for the man nor for the position”, Macron has made hurtful criticisms of the man he hopes to succeed.
Asked whether he would visit the employees of the Whirlpool factory who are about to lose their jobs in his home town of Amiens, Macron replied: "A presidential campaign isn't made for grandstanding."
In 2012, Hollande climbed on to a lorry outside the steel factory at Florange to assure workers of his support. “I am not going to climb on a truck and say that with me, it won’t close. It’s not true,” Macron said.
A book of Hollande's confessions to two Le Monde correspondents, A President shouldn't say that…, created a scandal last year. "I consider that the problem of the last term was too great a proximity with journalists," Macron said. "When one is president, one is not buddy-buddy with journalists."
The journalist Anne Fulda writes in her book Emmanuel Macron, such a perfect young man, that Hollande's lack of compassion for Macron on April 13th, 2013, the day his maternal grandmother Germaine Noguès died, destroyed his relationship with Hollande. In his book Révolution, Macron barely mentions his parents, but devotes an entire chapter to the grandmother who raised him.
Fulda asked Macron if it was true that Hollande reacted with a banal phrase along the lines of “I was sad when my grandmother died too”. Macron responded: “It’s not false. The manner in which Francois Hollande reacted, I would not want to be like that.”
Now another spent politician, the centrist François Bayrou (65) whose endorsement of Macron gave him a boost in opinion polls in February, is also burdening the candidate with effusive praise. At a rally in Pau on Wednesday night, Bayrou said Macron’s youth was not a problem. “At your age, Bonaparte had been in power for 10 years and had been emperor for six. Alexander the Great had long since conquered the world.”