France's Handover Starts as Macron Stays Mum on Future Premier

  • Outgoing President Hollande guides successor at ceremony
  • Hollande to visit Merkel ‘so we can say goodbye to each other’

France’s transfer of power got under way as speculation focused on who Emmanuel Macron will name as his prime minister after he is sworn in as president Sunday.

Outgoing President Francois Hollande guided his successor through a ceremony Monday marking the end of World War II in Europe at the Arc de Triomphe. The two men laid a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier below the monument and greeted veterans together, the morning after the 39-year-old centrist Macron won 66 percent of the vote to defeat far-right Marine Le Pen.

Macron and Hollande lay a wreath at Arc de Triomphe in Paris, May 8.

Photographer: Stephane de Sakutin/AFP via Getty Images

Hollande will visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel later on Monday “so we can say goodbye to each other,” he told France 2 television after the ceremony, saying the inauguration at the presidential Elysee Palace will take place on May 14.

Macron’s choice of premier is his first challenge as the choice will shape the campaign of his En Marche! party for parliamentary elections next month. That vote will determine whether Macron obtains an absolute majority, or has to contend with a fractious National Assembly as he seeks to carry out his program.

Macron’s decisive victory over the National Front candidate on a platform of free-market policies strengthens the European Union and deals a blow to the populist wave that has roiled western democracies for the past year. An independent centrist who has never before run for office, he is set to become the youngest-ever elected French head of state.

‘Uniting People’

Richard Ferrand, Macron’s campaign manager and himself tipped in French media as a possible premier, offered few clues, telling RTL radio Monday it was up to the president-elect to find the person best-suited to “unite people beyond the traditional divides. So there are among us people who come from the left, the center and the right.”

Macron will appoint his new premier the day after the inauguration, according to an adviser who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. Macron is keeping tight-lipped, even with his own team: at a meeting shortly before the first results broke Sunday evening, Macron didn’t even reveal whether he had told his nominee of his choice, said the adviser.

Macron told Europe 1 radio last week that he had already chosen his potential premier but declined to identify the person. Macron said the person he has “in mind” is in line with the profile he has disclosed previously: someone with political experience, who can lead a parliamentary majority.

Bruno Le Maire, a former minister and ex-adviser to defeated candidate Francois Fillon of the Republicans, offered his services as early as Sunday evening, casting himself as the perfect bridge between Macron and the center-right. Macron “must stretch out his hand to the millions of voters of the right and of the center who were not represented in the runoff,” Le Maire told RTL radio.

Parliamentary Vote

Among others floated as potential premiers are Xavier Bertrand, a veteran of the Republican who heads the Hauts-de-France , and outgoing Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who after Macron’s win urged France to “come together and be united in this difficult period.”

Though her name has also been cited in French media, Republican Valerie Pecresse appeared less than enthusiastic about serving under Macron, telling Radio Classique that although she had voted for him in the runoff his proposals on unemployment were not “audacious enough,” and he didn’t have “the necessary firmness” on security issues.

While Macron’s premier will get to select a cabinet right away, the newly elected parliament will have the power to bring it down and impose its own choice unless En Marche! becomes the largest bloc. With at least five political formations contesting all 577 seats, a hung parliament could emerge. In her concession speech, Le Pen claimed the mantle of leader of the opposition, saying that the legislative elections were looming. “I’ll be at the head of this fight,” she said.

Macron pledged Sunday evening to heal France’s rifts, saying he would work to address the concerns exposed throughout one of the most divisive campaigns of the country’s recent history. “I will do everything in the next five years so that they have no more reason to vote for extremes,” he said.

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