Wednesday 21 February 2018

Former banker pitched as foil to far-right hatred

Emmanuel Macron profile

Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Reuters
Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Reuters

Caroline Mortimer

When Emmanuel Macron resigned from Socialist President François Hollande's government in 2016 to launch his En Marche! (On the Move!) political movement, many thought he was doomed to failure.

But in just 18 months the movement now has more than 200,000 members and Mr Macron is vying for first place with another outsider, the Front National's Marine Le Pen, in the French presidential election.

Should Mr Macron make it into the Élysée Palace it will be a remarkable achievement for a former banker plucked from relative obscurity by Mr Hollande to become his economy minister in 2014.

Mr Macron was born into a middle-class family in the city of Amiens where he was educated at mostly private Catholic schools.

While in secondary school he fell in love with his drama teacher Brigitte Trogneux, who was 24 years his senior, when they collaborated on an end-of-year play. When his parents sent him to finish his final year of school at an elite establishment in Paris, he refused to give up on Ms Trogneux and proclaimed he would come back and marry her. Sure enough, the couple stayed together and eventually married in 2007. They now live together in Paris with her three children from her first marriage.

Ms Trogneux has played a key role in the election campaign, with Mr Macron vowing that she will have a role in his administration. She has been quoted as saying she is "the president of his fan club" and is often seen attending high-level meetings by his side.

Despite initially wanting to be a novelist, Mr Macron graduated from the elite Sciences Po university in Paris before entering the civil service. He worked at the French treasury for four years before leaving to become a banker. In 2012, he was appointed as Mr Hollande's deputy chief of staff, then economy minister.

During his tenure in government, Mr Macron became particularly unpopular among the traditional left as he enacted a series of labour laws, including one which allows companies to negotiate over the 35-hour week, which led to strikes across France.

Mr Macron has pitched himself as a socialist-liberal and played on his personal appeal as a young, fresh face and a counterpoint to the xenophobic, nationalistic, anti-globalisation campaign of his main rival Ms Le Pen.

Before he announced his candidacy, his team, inspired by the Obama campaign in the US in 2008, carried out a survey of thousands of French citizens to hear what policies they wanted from their politicians.

Le grande marche (the great walk) by supporters and activists resulted in 25,000 unusually in-depth interviews with voters which he has built his policy platform on, the BBC reported.

The resulting centrist manifesto has been ridiculed for trying to please everyone, but broadly speaking he vows to cut taxes and spending but also provide support for those on low incomes along with €50bn for public infrastructure and a shift to renewable energy.

More controversially, he has vowed to cut corporation tax and red tape, allowing companies to renegotiate the 35-hour week and make it easier to hire and fire.

His supporters say this will help revive France's moribund economy. The French labour code is famously longer than the Bible, deterring investment and private sector growth.

Mr Macron has vowed to bring unemployment down from its current 10pc to 7pc. His biggest challenge is winning over blue collar workers who are put off by his support for globalisation, multiculturalism and the EU.

Some dissatisfied voters see immigration as the source of their woes and have flocked to the Front National.

During a debate last month, Ms Le Pen attacked Mr Macron for his vague positions, saying he managed to speak for seven minutes without saying anything.

Irish Independent

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