Reform-minded French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday launched his own political movement, declaring he
wanted to promote "new ideas" that were neither "of the right nor the left" a year ahead of the next presidential election.
Macron, a 38-year-old former banker who was brought into the Socialist government in 2014 to try to turn around the ailing French economy, said the movement called "En Marche" (On the move) would spur debate on how to tackle "blockages" in French society.
His formation of a political movement has fuelled speculation about his political ambitions in the run-up to next year's election.
But he insisted the 2017 presidential election -- just 13 months away -- was "not my priority today", but he pointedly did not throw his support behind Socialist President Francois Hollande, who is aiming for re-election despite abysmal approval ratings.
"Whoever it is in 2017, if we do not clearly set out a vision for the country, if there is not an open debate, then he or she will not succeed," he said.
His aim, he said, was to win over a majority of French people to "new ideas for the country" that could be implemented in the future.
"That's the only ambition one should have. It's radical, it seems a bit crazy talking about it tonight, but there is such energy in the country!" the fresh-faced minister said.
Over the past year-and-a-half, Macron has become the face of the centrist shift of President Francois Hollande's government.
Lionized by liberals for challenging the key planks of French Socialism, like the 35-hour work week, he has been lampooned by die-hard leftists as too cosy with business.
The minister, who is not a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party, said his movement would be open to members of all "republican" parties - a label often used to exclude the far-right National Front.
But Macron's initiative got a cooler response from the first secretary of the Socialist party, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, with whom he has often clashed.
"If he helps to widen the majority (for the Socialists), then his contribution is positive," he said Thursday.
But if he wanted to move the Socialists more to the right, "then he is on the wrong track," he said.
Hollande, who has been plagued by abysmal approval ratings, has said he will not seek re-election if it does not succeed in cutting stubbornly high unemployment.