The French president-elect will lead a deeply divided country—can he charm the people who didn't vote for him?by Christine Ockrent / May 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
Listen: Ockrent talks to Prospect Editor Tom Clark in the ninth edition of Headspace, our monthly podcast
Emmanuel Macron is the new president of France. After five disappointing years, François Hollande has left the Elysée Palace. And Le cher et vieux pays, the “dear old country” celebrated by Charles de Gaulle—who was 68 when he founded the Fifth Republic in 1958—has fallen into the arms of a 39-year-old political novice with no party machine.
The achievement of this young man is historic. At a time when the democratic process is under scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic, Macron has broken the entire mould of French politics. Selecting him after a long, unpredictable and bitter presidential campaign, 66.1 per cent of French voters have sent a signal of hope, optimism and openness to the world. How could it happen in a nation with a reputation for being the most pessimistic in Europe? And how could a land at once so proud of its revolutionary tradition, and at the same time so solidly conservative in its political habits, have embraced an avowed centrist who proudly stands outside the old tribes of left and right?
Macron was at first considered a fraud, a hologram, a self-deluded caricature. He was seen as a spoiled brat, not in the class-conscious Eton-Oxford English sense, but in a French way that combines high education and a technocratic mindset with intellectual pretention. His blue-eyed good looks didn’t help. Before long he was also labelled a traitor to his boss, Hollande, to Manuel Valls, the head of the government in which he served, and to the Socialist Party he pretended to support. Back then, he was seen as a bubble, which the changing winds of the popular mood would soon blow away, a passing infatuation for the media which was bored of the drear of politics as usual. He was painted as a caricature of the globalised elite, a former banker, the gilded champion of the oligarchy. Above all, he was a weather vane who bent with the winds and denied the basic political divide between the right and the left, a failing candidate who would never master the rules of the game.