Saturday 16 December 2017

Fresh-faced 'outsider' on the brink of presidency

Emmanuel Macron salutes supporters after he delivered a speech at the Parc des Expositions hall in Paris. Photo: Reuters
Emmanuel Macron salutes supporters after he delivered a speech at the Parc des Expositions hall in Paris. Photo: Reuters

David Chazan Paris

Unknown to the public until two years ago and initially ruled out as a serious contender, Emmanuel Macron now stands on the threshold of the French presidency.

Thousands of his supporters and campaigners exploded with joy at a hall in western Paris, waving French flags and singing the national anthem, 'La Marseillaise', when the first partial results were announced.

Reacting to the partial results, Mr Macron said: "This is a historic moment for France."

He added: "We are clearly turning a page in French political life. The French people have expressed their desire for renewal."

If Mr Macron goes on to win the May 7 run-off against Marine Le Pen of the Front National, as predicted by the polls, the fresh-faced 39-year-old political novice will be France's first president from outside an established party in nearly a century.

An independent centrist who formed his own movement only a year ago, Mr Macron's lightning ascent has belied doubts about his ability to win over "la France profonde", the French heartlands.

He casts himself as an outsider who will shake up France's bipartisan politics, but uphold democratic and civilised values against the "extremism" and "xenophobia" of Ms Le Pen.

In contrast to Ms Le Pen's anti-EU stance, Mr Macron defines himself as "progressive and pro-Europe".

A former Rothschild banker who has never before been elected or even stood for office, his opponents have questioned his ability to govern without the backing of an established party apparatus.

Married to his former drama teacher who is 24 years his senior, Mr Macron has been forced to deny rumours that he is gay.

In an election campaign that focused more on candidates' personalities than policies, his "neither left nor right" manifesto offered few bold initiatives.

He called for a loosening of regulations to make France more business-friendly, but stopped short of the Thatcherite reforms and drastic cuts proposed by the scandal-tainted centre-right candidate, François Fillon.

He has promised to invest €50bn in public services, reduce council tax and cut France's generous unemployment benefits.

Born in the red-brick industrial northern town of Amiens, in the Somme, Mr Macron is fond of describing himself as "a child of provincial France" but is often viewed as an elitist intellectual.

He is a graduate of the École Nationale d'Administration, the most prestigious of France's "grandes écoles", which has trained generations of politicians and senior civil servants.

Economically liberal and pro-business, he eschews the term "centrist". He argues that the traditional left-right political divide is obsolete.

Irish Independent

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