First-time politician Emmanuel Macron was inaugurated Sunday as France’s president after a bitter campaign in which his opponent delivered the best-ever result for the country’s far-right party after her furious denunciations of immigration and open borders.
The solemn ceremony in the gilt halls of the Élysée Palace capped Macron’s stunning rise from political obscurity just a year ago, when he was the economy minister starting a long-shot centrist bid against the parties that had run the nation for decades. Now the 39-year-old is France’s youngest leader since Napoleon.
Macron becomes a rare outlier in this era of crusading populist politicians: a head of state who unapologetically embraces the borderless European Union and the economic opportunities and disruptions of globalization. The stakes are high in his effort to deliver on his promises. If he fails to budge France’s stubbornly high joblessness, the far-right National Front may roar back stronger than ever in 2022 elections, a step that could bring the entire European Union tumbling down.
On Sunday, Macron sought to inject fresh optimism into a French public that was so disillusioned with the political establishment that in the first round of the presidential elections nearly half of its voters opted for candidates who wanted to blow up the nation’s political order. Macron’s predecessor, Socialist President François Hollande, broke records for unpopularity after a five-year term filled with political failure.
“The world and Europe need France more than ever,” Macron said in a brief speech to a packed Élysée ballroom filled with the country’s political elite, his supporters and his family, after Hollande departed the presidential palace for the last time in a modest Citroen sedan.
“The power of France is not declining,” he said. “We hold in our hands all the strengths of a power of the 21st century.”
Acknowledging the fears of the third of French voters who opted for his opponent, anti-immigration firebrand Marine Le Pen, he said that “the French people who feel forgotten by this vast movement of the world have to be better protected.”
He pledged to “give back the French their self-confidence.”
But his power to deliver change will be determined by a breakneck legislative campaign over the next four weeks. June elections will determine whether he can sweep in a majority for his new political party, Republic on the Move, which is too new to hold any seats. If he fails, he will be forced to share power with his political opponents, an arrangement that could force him build a piece-by-piece majority for his reforms and sap much of his political energies.
A first signal of his strategy will come Monday, when he announces his pick for prime minister and other members of his cabinet. Macron will seek to reassure voters on the left and the right that he is not moving too far away from them – all while emphasizing his newcomer bona fides.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · CléOphéE Demoustier, Michael Birnbaum