Macron Takes Charge of Divided France as Youngest President

  • Half of voters backed extremists in first round of election
  • New leader vowed to bring nation together in victory speech

International SOS' Vaissie Expects Reform From Macron

Emmanuel Macron became the youngest president of France on Sunday, leading a country where economic malaise and security concerns drove extremist parties to their highest-ever scores in this year’s election.

Macron, 39, is the eighth directly elected president of the Fifth Republic, after assuming the role in a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris.

Emmanuel Macron and wife Brigitte Trogneux on May 14.

Photographer: Stephane De Sakutin//AFP via Getty Images

“For decades France has doubted itself,” Macron said in his inaugural speech, making one of his main tasks “to bring self-confidence back to the French.”

The new head of state takes charge of continental Europe’s leading military power and second-largest economy as both an outsider and an insider. Macron benefited from the electorate’s desire for fresh faces and solutions, as the first president in the modern era to be elected without the support of France’s two main traditional parties. But he was his predecessor Francois Hollande’s economic adviser for more than two years and is deeply familiar with the administration’s inner workings.

“Most presidents land in the Elysee Palace with no idea how it functions, and they learn on the job,” said Patrick Weil, a historian and political scientist with the CNRS research center in Paris. “Macron has worked there a couple years, was even the deputy chief of staff. He knows the corridors of the Elysee and how it works. He even knows the drivers.”

Rain Stopped

Macron, who arrived in a Renault armored car just as it stopped raining, walked up a red carpet to the Elysee steps where Hollande waited to welcome him. The two men shook hands and went up to the president’s office where they met for a private talk before the ceremony when, among other things, France’s nuclear codes were passed on. Afterward, the Elysee’s new tenant escorted the outgoing president to his car.

About 300 guests attended Macron’s inauguration inside the Elysee’s reception hall in the building’s west wing. The hall overlooks gardens where the ceremony continued with the playing of the national anthem and a traditional 21-gun salute from cannon placed at the nearby Invalides.

Macron wore a dark suit that cost 450 euros ($491), made by his usual Paris tailor, his aides said by text message. His spouse, Brigitte Macron, wore a lavender-blue dress designed for her by Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquiere and carried a purse loaned to her by the brand.

Splintered Electorate

Macron defeated the National Front’s Marine Le Pen by 66 percent to 34 percent in the May 7 runoff after the most divisive and tumultuous election in the past half a century. While that’s the widest winning margin since Le Pen’s even-more-extreme father Jean-Marie qualified for the second round in 2002, the result hides a splintered electorate.

Polls show that at least half of those who voted for Macron did so to keep out Le Pen, who planned to leave the euro, impose trade protectionism and stop immigration. Macron ran on an unabashedly pro-European and pro-business platform, but in April 23’s first round of voting about half the electorate chose Le Pen or other extremist candidates who oppose France’s place in international organizations such as NATO and the European Union.

“We will need a more efficient, more democratic and more political Europe, because it is the instrument of our power and of our sovereignty,” Macron said.

The 75 percent turnout in the election was the lowest since 1969, and the 9 percent of blank ballots was the highest ever. Still, Macron’s vote was equal to 44 percent of registered voters and that’s about average for the winners of France’s 10 presidential elections. He won a larger share than Francois Mitterrand in 1981, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, Jacques Chirac in 1995, or Hollande in 2012.

Parliamentary Poll

While multiple surveys show business confidence is at its highest level since 2011, Macron inherits an economy that has lagged the euro-area average for the past three years and where the unemployment rate remains stuck at 10 percent, roughly double the level in the U.K. and Germany. And France is still officially under emergency rule after a string of terror attacks since 2015.

“The challenge of the next five years will be to avoid letting our country unravel, by spreading success, by enlarging the field of opportunity, and by ensuring, as Paris does so well, that everyone benefits from globalization and the openness of our country," Macron said in a speech at Paris’ city hall.

To implement his policies, Macron will need to be able to assemble some kind of a majority after the parliamentary elections on June 11 and June 18 in which his year-old political movement is presenting candidates for the first time.

“The unknown part now is how much power are the French voters ready to give him?,” said Weil. “Will they want him to share power? We should have the answer on June 18 after the legislative elections.”

Macron has already begun naming his aides. Alexis Kohler was appointed as chief of staff and Philippe Etienne, the current French ambassador in Germany, will become the president’s foreign affairs adviser.

In his inaugural speech, Macron said he would convince the French that, having rejected a turn inward, the country is at the dawn of a renaissance and has all of the ingredients to be a 21st-century power.

“The world and Europe need France more than ever,” he said. “The world needs what the French have always taught it: the audacity of liberty, the demands of equality and the will for brotherhood.”

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