He is a French anti-Trump. But he is making the runningby Christine Ockrent / February 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
The French political scene is scattered with corpses.
Two presidents and two former prime ministers have been brutally ousted from the presidential contest. Nicolas Sarkozy believed French conservatives missed him—they kicked him out in the first round of their primaries. The sitting president, François Hollande, came to the obvious conclusion he stood no chance, and so at new year gloomily announced he wouldn’t run again. The French just shrugged. His prime minister, Manuel Valls, after pushing him towards the exit, resigned from Matignon, the PM’s residence to run on his own social democratic platform. But he lost the primaries to Benoit Hamon, a 49-year-old leftist who wants to create a new Republic based on an average income all round and a 32 hour working week. Alain Juppé, who had been a young right-wing prime minister in the 1990s, thought his time had come at last. So did pollsters. Their mistake: another former PM, François Fillon, a Catholic traditionalist who had always been looked down as a minor contender, won the conservative primaries on the basis of his integrity—only to be badly wounded, a few weeks later, by “Penelopegate,” a scandal over the payment of public funds to his wife and children. With a judge ordering that Sarkozy stand trial over a campaign finance charge, knives are now being plunged into even the corpses.
Just a couple of months from the presidential elections, all forecasts and basic rules of campaign politics have been proved wrong. One candidate is revelling in the shambles: Emmanuel Macron, who I profiled in Prospect two years ago (“Can this man save France?”, May 2015). At 39, the new wonder child of French politics is running high in the polls and now stands a serious chance of making it to the top Elysée job.
How to explain such a rise? Isn’t he too young, too inexperienced, having never run for elected office? What does he know about governance, having been an adviser to president Hollande and the economy minister in the Valls government for just four years? A middle-class upbringing, an alumni of the elite École nationale d’administration, isn’t he a typical product of the establishment at a time when the populist tide is supposed to be sweeping it away? Didn’t he work for a while as an investment banker with Rothschild, making very good money—a mortal sin in a country where other people’s wealth is always viewed with suspicion?