The anti-Trump: Emmanuel Macron’s winning streak continues
France’s pragmatist president is shaking up politics around the globe
Emmanuel Macron: the French president’s political movement, En Marche!, is positioning itself to become a Europe-wide party. Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty
The election of President Emmanuel Macron, on May 7th, was the most momentous event in France this year. He has already invigorated a flagging European Union and restored French influence in world affairs. Yet it was extremely unlikely that Macron would be elected. He was too young, inexperienced and a centrist in a country prone to extremes. And he had no party machine behind him.
Macron stepped into the void created by Brexit, Donald Trump’s presidency and Angela Merkel’s political difficulties. He “could even become the de facto leader of the free world”, the Washington Post suggested on December 10th, a day after the New York Times called him “the public face of Western diplomacy in the Middle East”.
Macron’s activism has affected policies in Dublin. The government is hunkering down to resist the French leader’s drive for fairer taxation of tech giants, a possibility the Taoiseach’s entourage deems as great a threat to the Irish economy as Brexit. With Merkel’s support Macron revived a provision in the Lisbon Treaty for permanent structured co-operation in defence – the Pesco agreement – which the Dáil voted to join on December 7th. Dublin launched the Future of Europe initiative in November, in response to Macron’s call for a Europe-wide citizens’ dialogue on the subject.
To this correspondent, who covered both leaders, Emmanuel Macron appears more courageous and less idealistic than Barack Obama
All of these topics were elements of Macron’s landmark 100-minute speech at the Sorbonne on September 26th. If Europe is to count in the world, he argued, EU members must pool sovereignty on security, terrorism and migration, because they are too big for any single country to address effectively.
Until Macron’s victory there seemed to be no stopping the rise of anti-EU populism. Regardless of how many Macron proposals come to fruition, he is driving the debate, with rapid-fire proposals to create a European monetary fund, European migration agency and European Ivy League. He proposes replacing Britain’s 74 MEPs in the 2019 European parliamentary elections with members elected from transnational lists. Macron’s political movement, En Marche!, is positioning itself to become a Europe-wide party.
Merkel and the European Commission accept Macron’s idea for a euro-zone finance minister but disagree on what the minister’s prerogatives would be.
When the German city of Aachen awarded its prestigious Charlemagne Prize to Macron, on December 8th, it cited his “vision of a new Europe and of the re-establishment of the European project, of a new European sovereignty and a close, restructured co-operation between peoples and nations”.
Some compared the honour to the Nobel Peace Prize given to Barack Obama in 2009 “for making speeches”. To this correspondent, who covered both leaders, Macron appears more courageous and less idealistic than Obama. The former US president endorsed Macron shortly before the May 7th election and had lunch with him at the Élysée on December 2nd.
Macron’s winning streak continues. Since his election Paris beat Dublin to secure the European Banking Authority and France won the race against Ireland and South Africa to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup. Paris also won the 2024 summer Olympics, and the former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay was chosen to head Unesco.
Macron’s style is, in the words of Roger Cohen of the New York Times, “a mixture of Gallic logic and alpha-male charm”. Unlike his predecessors, Macron relishes giving speeches and interviews in English.
Older politicians appear enchanted by Macron. Angela Merkel was radiant during his first presidential trip to Berlin
Older politicians appear enchanted by Macron. Angela Merkel was radiant during his first presidential trip to Berlin. The US billionaire Michael Bloomberg beamed when Macron spoke at the December 12th One Planet Summit, which Bloomberg helped finance.
“On our side we have the force of pioneers, endurance, certitude and the energy of those who would like to build a better world,” Macron told the United Nations General Assembly in September, referring to the battle against climate change.
On climate change, the nuclear accord with Iran and the status of Jerusalem Macron has emerged as the anti-Trump. He nonetheless manages to maintain what he calls an “extremely direct” relationship with the US president.
Macron is a pragmatist who has no compunction about selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Qatar. He prefers not to get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian question, because to do so would be messy and thankless. At the same time he thwarted Saudi meddling that threatened to destabilise Lebanon, and he strives to end the war in Syria.
In domestic politics Macron and En Marche! have enfeebled the Socialist and conservative Les Républicains parties, and marginalised extremists. He signed a revolutionary reform of the labour code, which makes it easier to hire and fire in France, on September 22nd.
An in-depth study by the Cevipof think tank published in early December shows that, while the majority of the French reserve judgment until they see the results of Macron’s policies, their confidence in the future is growing.