Against all odds, the freshest face in the 2017 French Presidential race has backed his right-wing populist opponent Marine Le Pen into a tight corner: Emmanuel Macron. Who is the man bringing new hope to French politics?
From the outside, one could easily see French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron as an overachieving political wunderkind: Always composed, with polished shoes and a designer suit, with nary a hair out of place. Macron is an eloquent speaker, who completed his studies in an elite Parisian high school, worked as a successful investment banker at Rothschild and with a short career as a financial minister under President Francois Hollande – at the peak of Hollande’s unpopularity. And now, the 39-year-old finds himself facing off against the right-wing populist Marine Le Pen – poll predictions show him with a narrow lead against the leader of the National Front.
How did this political outsider manage his meteoric ascent? Simple: Macron moves people – beneath the politician’s polished facade lies a brave and unflinchingly unique leader.
Man of the Hour: Macron holds great potential
The political malaise in France is tangible. The country’s most powerful politicians are more likely to make headlines with their own private misadventures than for their political greatness. Presidential candidate François Fillon was embroiled in a scandal regarding rumors of his tax evasion. Former President Sarkozy had a reputation for womanizing. And the current serving president Hollande was involved in a less-than-glamorous affair with the actress Julie Gayet – one that seemed to repulse the French people. “France longs for a ideal world,” claimed a headline from German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (link in German). They seem to have found their “savior” in Emmanuel Macron and his wife.
And recently, Macron’s marriage – namely, to Brigitte Trogneux, 24 years his senior and his ex-teacher – has attracted plenty of media attention: “The people love these people – especially because of the uncommon age difference.” Troneux and Macron got to know eachother in his school years – she, the French teacher that stole his attention, and he, the poem-writing 17-year-old, a talented pianist and bookworm. Such a unique love story, maybe crazy to most, is simply what the French have come to expect from their politicians. The couple has been married since 2007, and appear happy together. In responding to rumors about a homosexual love affair, Macron brushed them off with good humor.
Vive la France: Macron embodies a lifestyle
Macron, the one-time investment banker and economic treasurer, is well-educated, charismatic, and authentic – no question. But just as with Barack and Michelle Obama, it’s the relationship of this powerful man and his equally charming wife that win over the sympathies of French voters. Without Trogneux, Macron has too few edges, he appears too polished, too inexperienced. But when it comes to speaking with conviction about the changes needed to bring real revolution in France, his wife lends credibility to make up for his own lack of experience. “In photos, she looks like the embodiment of the modern, confident and liberally-minded France, like the one she lived through in the 60s and 70s,” summarized journalist Niklas Maak for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. With his wife in the background, Macron is empowered to secure and unite a larger segment of the French population – especially by communicating his mission and shared values. He speaks of political shake-up, of a technological and social “revolution,” (which, coincidentally, is also the name of Macrons book). The French media have already come to see him as the “French Kennedy.”
Different is better: Macron does his own thing
“Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité” – the motto of France. Today, it brings to mind the further division between the left and the right, and sounds more like a hollow statement than a uniting cry. Emmanuel Macron has set his sights on overcoming this chasm – in spite of his minimal political experience. When looking at the current political parties in France, Macron saw none with which he could identify – and so he set to work on creating one. Within a year, he built his own political platform, with almost 230,000 followers. “En Marche!” (French for “Onward!”) sees itself as a progressive socially liberal party – Macron leads it almost like a start-up. He’s taken plenty of his risks in his campaign: “If I have ignored political rules, it’s because I’ve never accepted them,” he says.
The 39-year old stands for a new generation of politicians. He’s the kind of leader who calls his own politics “neither left or right.” And that goes for more than just his political views – it speaks to all of what Macron says and does. He rejects labels. He stays true to himself. And that’s the secret to his success.