The French Obama for some and the latest face of the establishment for others, Emmanuel Macron is an intriguing new actor on the French political scene. Yet in less than a month, the new-look centrist could be the next president.
Macron, who is a former assistant to the late philosopher Paul Ricoeur, graduated from the prestigious École Nationale de l’Administration, where the French government trains future generations of public servants in 2004. Next, he served as an inspector of finances in the French Ministry of Economy between 2004 and 2008 before joining the Rothschild & Cie Bank and helping Nestlé in its acquisition of a branch of Pfizer in a €9 billion deal. These business ventures propelled Macron to millionaire status.
In 2011, he started working with François Hollande, who was then a candidate in the Socialist Party’s primary. A year later, Macron was offered the prestigious position of adjunct general secretary—a key position in the management of the economy after Hollande’s election.
In September 2014, Hollande promoted Macron to minister of economy, industry, and digital affairs. Macron’s fresh face and his capacity to differ from socialist dogmas regarding the economy, such as making bold claims that he wants France’s youth to aspire to become millionaires, drew him support from the centrists and the right wing.
In August 2016, to the surprise of the public, including Hollande, Macron decided to resign from the government to found the movement “En Marche,” or “On The Move,” a self-proclaimed centrist party, before officially launching his presidential bid in November 2016.
When Hollande decided not to run for a second term as president, a decision without precedent in France’s Fifth Republic, Prime Minister Manuel Valls replaced him in the Socialist Party’s primary. Despite personal contempt for Macron, whom he called the “microbe,” Valls also sits more to the right of Socialist Party orthodoxy.
However, Valls’ defeat in January by Benoît Hamon, who identifies as far-left on the Socialist Party’s spectrum, allowed plenty of political space for Macron to gain support. On Macron’s right, the conservative Francois Fillon won the Republican Party’s primary against the more centrist Alain Juppé, who had been leading most polls since 2014. However, in yet another stroke of luck for Macron, a series of scandals have plagued Fillon’s campaign.
In a cunning move, Macron published his platform after both of these primaries. He wants to reduce public spending by €60 billion ($64 billion), liberalize labor laws, and eliminate housing taxes for 80 percent of the population. The right calls his budget unrealistic while the left attacks him for wanting to further reduce labor rights.
Yet Macron openly admits that his proposals are somewhat less important than the symbolic aspect of his campaign. He’s unabashedly pro-EU in a time of looming Euroscepticism and wants a more generous immigration policy. He is both in favor of liberalizing the economy and promoting liberal social values. In a time of partisan politics, he is seen as a bridge between both sides but, by his critics, as the ambiguous centrist, who tries to co-opt policies of both the right and left. Many politicians from the left have given Macron their support, including Valls, albeit begrudgingly. Additionally, a few less prominent leaders from the right have also declared their support. The right, however, started a campaign against “Emmanuel Hollande” to point out the political similarities between the Hollande administration and Macron.
In many ways he is the polar opposite of Marine Le Pen, who advocates the left’s defense of the role of the state in the economy and the right’s hard rhetoric on immigration. And as the top two candidates in most major polls, both presidential contenders seem eager to face off against each other in a runoff election in April 2017. This scenario looks likely, as a new rift between globalists and nationalists, rather than the right and the left, has emerged in France.