Sarkozy Batters French Political Center Where Macron Plants Flag

How Does France's Political Future Impact Markets?
  • Macron stops short of declaring presidential bid as he quits
  • From Burkinis to taxes, former president turns hard right

France’s former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, is staking his political future on occupying the middle ground. If Nicolas Sarkozy has his way, no such space will exist.

The 38-year-old stopped just short of declaring his own bid for the presidency as he left Francois Hollande’s government on Tuesday. Turning toward the television cameras, he told disillusioned voters that “even if they no longer believe in politics,” there is room for them in his movement.

Sarkozy, who is trying to stage a comeback, isn’t having any of it.

“Here’s a man who was one of the principle collaborators of Francois Hollande, who prepared his speeches, who oversaw 50 billion euros in tax increases,” Sarkozy said on BFM TV. “Now he comes out after four years, including two years as minister, and says that he was never really on board and that this is all just about himself.”

The fresh-faced Macron wants to shake up French politics in a climate of growing populism. His opposition are mainstream veterans. Former President Sarkozy, fighting former Prime Minister Alain Juppe for the Republican nomination, is seeking a path back to power by courting the far-right with promises to ban Burkinis and lock up potential terrorists.

Political Space

“Macron believes that the French political system is at the end of its tether and that the old left-right dividing lines can be broken,” said Yves-Marie Cann, a pollster at Elabe in Paris. “His problem is that the closer we get to the election, the more the old divisions will impose themselves. Sarkozy is clearly betting that they will.”

About a decade ago as a mere minister, Sarkozy said he fantasized about being president while shaving. When Macron was asked what he thought about during the same morning ritual, he didn’t deny he was aiming just as high.

“I do have ambition, it would be hypocritical to say I didn’t,” Macron said in an interview with TF1. “I have it for my country, for myself and for those around me.”

And why not. Macron is the second-most popular politician in the country behind Juppe, according to an Elabe poll in early August. Sarkozy trails a distant tenth.

Change Possible?

What remains to be seen is whether Macron can shatter France’s traditional partisan structure. Juppe is an appealing figure to Socialists too, though that may not matter if Sarkozy defeats him by whipping up the right-wing base.

The former investment banker and short-lived Socialist has resisted labels. Though he served under Hollande, he’s pursued pro-business policies such a corporate tax cuts. As minister, he has called for an end to France’s 35-hour work week and a jobs-for-life policy for civil servants.

Macron gave an inkling of his intentions back in April, when he formed a movement called ‘En Marche,’ which can mean “On the Move” and “Let’s Get to Work.” At a major rally last month in Paris, the then-minister pledged “victory” in 2017, without specifying exactly what he intends to win.

As of Tuesday, Macron still couldn’t quite bring himself to commit to a presidential race. He might still be sharpening his pitch to an antsy electorate.

“I am of the left, for a real left that believes in progress for the country,” he told TF1. “We need to take risks and propose things to propose progressive voices.”

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