On Sunday, May 7th Emmanuel Macron was elected as French President, becoming the youngest leader of the country since Napoleon. A year ago virtually no-one outside banking and politics had heard of him: so who is he? What does he stand for? And what does his election mean for Brexit? We answer ten key questions about the new man in the Elysee Palace.
Who is Emmanuel Macron?
Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frederic Macron was born in Amiens on 21st December 1977. His father was a physician and his mother was a professor of neurology. He was educated initially in Amiens and then at the elite Lycee Henri IV in Paris, where he completed both his high school curriculum and undergraduate programme. Although he was brought up in a non-religious family, he chose to be baptised as a Roman Catholic at the age of 12.
…And yes, we may as well get the scandal out of the way. His parents apparently sent him to Paris because they were worried about the ‘bond’ he had formed with Brigitte Auziere, a teacher at Macron’s school in Amiens who was married with three children. They subsequently married in 2007: she is 24 years older than he is.
He seems to have come from nowhere…
By 1999 (aged 22) Macron was working as an editorial assistant to Paul Ricoeur, a French Protestant philosopher. He subsequently obtained a master’s degree in public affairs, before training for a senior civil service career at the Ecole National d’Administration. Macron was a member of the Socialist Party from 2006 to 2009 and from 2012 to 2014 held a senior role on the staff of French President Francois Hollande, ultimately being appointed Minister for the Economy and Finance.
However, in 2008 he left politics – at the age of 30 – to join Rothschilds bank. He very quickly earned himself a significant amount of money (having previously had to borrow €550,000 euros from a friend to buy his first apartment in Paris) and four years later he was back in politics. By 2015 he had declared that he was no longer a socialist but an independent, and on 6th April 2016, he launched his own political movement, En Marche (on the move) in Amiens. By November he had announced his bid for the Presidency. The rest, as they say, is history…
Aren’t there a few, well, conspiracy theories?
Plenty, mostly centring on Macron’s time at Rothschilds. The doubters’ key question is how could someone who apparently started his banking career by updating Excel spreadsheets suddenly become a partner? And why did the bank appear to take special pains to groom and fast-track Macron? If you really love your conspiracy theories, Macron was also a Bilderberg attendee in 2014. He was there with one Edward M Balls, possibly the only member of the supposed shadowy elite that secretly runs the world to end up on Strictly Come Dancing…
I digress. The point is that there are enough questions about Macron’s past to convince anyone who wants to be convinced that he is little more than the manufactured puppet of globalisation and banking. But whatever your view on that, the simple fact is that the English speaking, German loving, Frenchman is now President.
Emmanuel Macron won convincingly: why are people having doubts?
He did indeed win convincingly, with 66% of the votes cast to Marine le Pen’s 34%. But any thoughts of a brave new dawn and a country united behind a new leader need to be tempered by the abstention rate on Sunday – around 25% – and the record number of spoiled ballot papers, submitted by more than 11% of those who went to the polling stations. Many of those who did not vote will have been supporters of the far-left Jean-Luc Melenchon, whose high-spending, anti-EU platform had many similarities with Marine Le Pen’s message. So the country is by no means united behind the new President: to many voters, he was simply the least-bad of the two candidates on offer, with one poll suggesting 43% of voters supported him purely to thwart Le Pen.
What are the problems he faces?
Apart from the fact that he has no parliamentary party – as we discuss below – Macron faces three main challenges: national security, the economy and effect of Brexit on the EU. Terrorist attacks have killed 230 French people in the last 18 months. The fact that Le Pen made it to the final round with domestic security as one of her key policies shows how important it is to French people, and this is an absolute priority for Macron.
…As is the economy, with the French unemployment rate continuing to hover around 10%, more than double that of the UK and Germany. Macron has made a commitment to reduce the unemployment rate to 7%: many are sceptical of his ability to do that while also planning to reduce government spending.
He will also have to deal with Brexit: as a committed European he will need to be seen to be balancing both the interests of France and those of the EU. His officials made much of the “warm telephone call” he received from Angela Merkel after his election.
Can Emmanuel Macron govern when he has no MPs?
Apparently, 14,000 people have written to him asking to become MPs and cabinet ministers: that is double the number of 12-year-olds who apply to be the manager of Manchester United…
More seriously, Emmanuel Macron faces huge challenges. He is expected to name his Prime Minister next week, but that might only be a temporary appointment. If En Marche fails to gain a parliamentary majority in elections next month then he may need to name a new Prime Minister from the largest party – who could be an opponent. He has pledged to field candidates in all 577 constituencies (hence the bulging mailbag) but there is absolutely no guarantee that he will come out on top.
What are his economic policies?
Emmanuel Macron is in favour of the free market, and in favour of free trade. However, he has suggested that the EU should have a procurement policy which favours EU businesses – dismissed as “unworkable and unaffordable” by EU officials.
He has pledged not to prop up failing businesses with state money but instead to re-train those made redundant. He has also promised to tackle France’s unwieldy (and expensive) pension system – which is unlikely to be well received by those expecting to benefit from the pension system.
He plans big reductions in public spending (of up to €60bn) so that France sticks to the EU deficit limit of 3% of GDP. He is also planning to cut corporation tax from 33% to 25% and to make public investments worth up to €50bn over the next five years in infrastructure, apprenticeships, digital innovation and the environment. You can read a BBC article on his full range of policies here.
How will Emmanuel Macron’s win affect Brexit?
The short answer is that we don’t know. Interviewed on Radio 4 on Monday morning, Jean Pisani-Ferry, economic adviser to Macron, said that the new President “would not seek to punish” Britain as both sides would benefit from maintaining economic ties. Other commentators have been less optimistic, arguing that Macron has already said that he considers the UK’s decision to leave a “serious mistake” and that – far from taking back control – the UK had signed up to a subordinate status, putting it “on a par with Guernsey.”
In the short term, the Brexit negotiations are going to bring plenty of words and posturing and precious little action. We have already seen this with the wildly differing versions of the recent discussion over dinner between Theresa May and David Davies and Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.
Won’t he just do as Angela Merkel tells him?
Perhaps we should call for a psychologist: Merkel is very nearly the same age as Macron’s wife…
But in the short term Emmanuel Macron will have plenty of influence. He has been greeted as evidence that ‘populism’ is on the wane and his election has been enthusiastically welcomed by other European leaders. He will undoubtedly enjoy a ‘honeymoon’ period – but as Trump has found in America, the rhetoric of the campaign trail will soon give way to the realities of government. And in Europe, the ‘reality’ is almost always determined by Mrs Merkel.
Have we seen the last of Marine le Pen?
Not in the short term: she plans to re-invent and re-brand the Front National and says she will be the main opposition to Emmanuel Macron. Although some were disappointed with her 34% in the polls, it was roughly double the vote of her father, Jean-Marie le Pen, when he was defeated in 2002. Many had expected Marine le Pen to ultimately be succeeded by her niece, Marion Marechal Le Pen: however it appears that Marion is now stepping down from politics – so we could well see Macron vs Le Pen again in 2022…