Wednesday

23rd Aug 2017

Analysis

Macron, a new Franco-European monarch

  • The scenography was a way to demonstrate that even at 39, with almost no political experience, Macron he could cloak himself in the aura of a French president. (Photo: Reuters)

French presidents, with the Republic's pomp and the powers granted to them, are often called a "republican monarch".

If a victory celebration is a presage of things to come, then France and Europe may have found in Emmanuel Macron a new kind of French monarch. One who is national as much as European, modern yet seeking tradition, but one who will have to start a revolution in order to stay in power.

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The image of Macron walking alone on Sunday evening (7 May) in the majestic courtyard of the Louvre Palace, the residence of the French kings, had an unusual feeling of solemnity for such an occasion.

This feeling was also unexpected for the thousands of supporters who had been waiting for him in front of a large stage, set next to the Louvre's glass pyramid, where DJs had played music as diverse as the mostly young and multi-ethnic crowd.

But the staging was symbolic on many different levels.

Symbolic stage

The fact that Macron walked to the tune of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the EU's anthem, was a strong statement of his views: that France can no longer be itself without the EU - especially after defeating Marine Le Pen, who wanted to take France out of the EU.

The message was bold in a country where 10.6 million people had just, on Sunday, voted for the far-right anti-EU Le Pen. But the message was well-received by the crowd gathered at the Louvre, where star-spangled blue flags were almost as numerous as the national blue-white-red banner - even if not everyone recognised the music.

Earlier in the night, Macron had said that he would defend "France's vital interests," as well as "Europe, the community of fate that the peoples of the continent gave to themselves."

"It is our civilisation that is at stake," he said, insisting that he wanted to "rebuild the links between Europe and its citizens".

But the new firmly pro-EU president had other messages to send, more in style than in content.

For many French people, his 3-minute walk in a black coat was reminiscent of Francois Mitterrand walking alone in the Pantheon on the day of his inauguration as president in 1981. Mitterrand went on to become the longest-serving president in French modern history, for 14 years.

For Macron himself, the scene was a way to demonstrate that even at only 39 years of age, with his political experience limited to a stint as economy minister, he could cloak himself in the aura of a French president.

In an interview with the weekly Challenges last year, Macron had said he wanted to be a "jupiterian president", referring to the array of Jupiter-like powers of a president.

He said that "democratic authority" was "a capacity to enlighten … to spell out a meaning and a direction anchored in the history of the French people".

On Sunday evening, when he reached the stage - next to the pyramid built by Mitterrand - Macron attempted to set a direction anchored in history.

He said that "from the Ancient Regime to the liberation of Paris [in 1944], from the French revolution to the audacity of this pyramid", the Louvre was "the place" where "the world looks at France".

Spirit of enlightenment

"Europe and the world expect us to defend everywhere the spirit of Enlightenment that is threatened in so many places," he told the crowd of supporters. "They are waiting for us to be ourselves at last".

That kind of speech is almost a must-do for any French president, in a country that prides itself on being the "motherland of human rights".

But in the France of 2017, where the two main parties were swept over in the presidential election's first round and where the far-right leader obtained more votes than ever before, Macron's celebration of the country's history and values addressed a deeper need.

"I will protect the Republic," he said. Earlier on, he had acknowledged "the divisions in our nation" and "the angers, the doubts, the anxiety that some expressed".

Macron knows that he will have to unite a country that is looking for new prosperity, but also a new identity.

In a way, the crowd at the Louvre represented what was at stake in the vote, where many "Francais de souche" (pure-blood French) chose Le Pen to express their unease with immigration, Islam, a growing communitarianism, as well as with the economic situation and the impact of globalisation.

The people who came to acclaim Macron were of all ages but mostly young. They were white, Arabs and blacks. They were also from abroad, like a Belgian-Romanian couple who lives in Paris, or the Brazilian husband of a French man, that EUobserver met.

But despite the joy of winning a presidential election, there was no fervour in the air and the party quickly ended after Macron spoke.

Walking in Paris at night, this reporter saw far fewer people celebrating and heard fewer cars sounding their horns than on previous presidential election nights.

Macron launched his bid to the presidency like a start-up, with his own political movement looking as a personal brand - his En Marche! movement bears his own initials - and said that he wanted to "modernise France" and "renew the political life".

Victory of circumstance

But he knows that his election is as much a product of circumstances - the necessity to beat Le Pen - as a popular adherence to his programme.

And he is not assured of winning a majority in parliament in next month's legislative elections.

He admitted that voters did not give him a "blank check" and that the task to address "economic difficulties [and] the moral weakening of the country" would be "hard".

By staging himself as a new monarch, walking alone in the Louvre courtyard and giving a speech in front of a pyramid, Macron somehow contradicted his own ambition to "transform" France and the way it is governed.

He has exposed himself to criticism before even being certain of achieving what he said was necessary.

As a supporter shouted during his speech: "words are good, deeds are better".

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