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Emmanuel Macron the next French president - Really?
Emmanuel Macron: The next French president? Photo: AFP

Emmanuel Macron the next French president - Really?

Ben McPartland · 31 Aug 2016, 11:32

Published: 31 Aug 2016 11:32 GMT+02:00

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Emmanuel Macron was unheard of when he was the surprise nomination for Economy Minister two years ago, but his decision to quit president François Hollande's government on Tuesday showed just how big his stock has grown.

Within minutes of French newspapers getting wind of his imminent resignation, the live blogs were launched. Expert political analysts were rushed into TV news stations and Macron himself finished his crazy day live on prime time TV declaring he will "transform France".

Macron's move may be a "crazy gamble" as one newspaper put it, but Tuesday at least showed he is now a box office politician in France who can demand attention.

But can he really replace his former boss and become president of France in just nine months time?

“On paper, his ambition is pure madness. His chances of winning are minute,” wrote Cecile Cornudet of Les Echos newspaper.

Although the former Rothschild banker stopped short of announcing his candidature for next year’s presidential elections, Macron, himself must think his chances of winning are not that miniscule.

Despite his popularity ratings among the public being at 41 percent, far higher than those of his two bosses Hollande and PM Manuel Valls, Macron faces huge, seemingly insurmountable challenges if he wants to get his hands on the keys to the Elysée Palace.

He has no party?

First of all he doesn’t have a political party behind him. France does not have a history of politicians succeeding who are nor of the left nor the right.

While that may make him popular to some voters who are sick of the mainstream, it certainly makes it harder for Macron to build up a network of support.

"He is totally alone," said pollster François Miquet-Marty.

Macron has positioned himself as progressive who wants to take on conservatives and aims to unite all those from the left or the right who seek the same kind of reforms as he does – a further liberalzation and loosening of the French economy.

Gerard Collomb, the Socialist party senator and mayor of Lyon is Macron’s most high profile outspoken supporter. But Macron will need more than him to help convince voters he is the real deal.

Speaking on BFM TV on Wednesday Collomb claimed that around 50 MPs from the left and the right are ready to get behind Macron.

Does he haven enough supporters?

It’s not just political heavyweights Macron needs. He needs people on the ground. Hordes of militants or “members” as he prefers to call them, who can organise and attend rallies, post leaflets through doors and basically take the Macron message to the people.

Macron’s political movement “En Marche” (On the Move) has already pulled in some 60,000 followers, a small number of whom packed into a Paris meeting hall earlier this year where Macron promised to “lead them to victory in 2017”.

According to Le Figaro newspaper, among those 60,000 “sympathizers” around 15,000 are ready to volunteer on the ground and 500 or so are willing to be coordinators in around 20 towns across France.

That all sounds good but is a long way of the 240,000 militants that Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Republicains party can call on.

But he does have money

It’s not just the followers Macron needs. He also need cash, especially if as expected he will go it alone rather than take his chances through the Socialist party primary.

There were recent reports in the French press that that Macron was raising funds for a presidential election war chest.

Paris Match reported that Macron raised nearly €12.75 million ($14.5 million) during a trip to London to "fund a campaign if he decides to run".

The former minister denied the report.

Again Le Figaro reported that Macron had managed to convince a few thousand donors to stump up around one million euros. But candidates who qualify for the second round of voting are allowed to splash some €22 million on their campaign.

Macron might need to pop back to London a few more times if he really has designs on the Elysée.

Who will vote for him?

But arguably the most difficult task for Macron will be to come up with a programme that will convince voters. He has vowed to spell out France’s problems by the end of September.

"I will then propose far-reaching action that can be taken," he said.

He may have been part of a Socialist government but he is loathed by those on the hard line left for being too cosy with big business.

Embarrassingly for the government leftist rebel MPs refused to vote in favour of Macron's reform package which liberalised certain section of the economy and resulted in among other things, more Sunday shopping.

Macron's hope will be to convince enough centre-right voters, students, young professionals and the middle classes, to take a gamble on him.

But although the right wing presidential candidates Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy are old-timers they remain popular figures. While Sarkozy may have returned wearing the clothes of the far right, Juppé is moderate enough to leave little room for Macron.

Marine Le Pen also stands in Macron's way. The far right leader has built her image on being the alternative candidate to the same "broken political system" Macron referred to in an interview on Tuesday.

Her support has ballooned in recent years as she scoops up former left wing and right wing voters who have grown tired with the likes of Hollande and Sarkozy proving powerless at fixing France's ills.

Story continues below…

Macron would find it tough to convince these disillusioned voters, who appear to want a return to a France that no longer exists rather than a new, modernized and streamlined France that a young financier like the forward-thinking ex-financier would offer.

But what does he stand for?

And importantly while the former may be able to convince French voters of his economic prowess, it looks increasingly likely that the 2017 election will be decided on matters of security and French identity. Home turf for the likes of Le Pen and Sarkozy. Macron has not made it clear whether or not he minds the sight of a woman in a burqini on a French beach.

But his apparently slim chances may all depend on his former boss François Hollande.

If Hollande decides to run for president, there will be little room left for Macron.

But there is a theory that Hollande, knowing he has no chance of victory, has already decided not to run and will stand aside for the young upstart Macron to try to pull off his "crazy gamble".

Pollster Jérôme Fourquet from Ifop does not buy that theory and believes Macron's strategy all along has been to put pressure on Hollande not to run.

Fourquet told The Local that Macron's rise has been impressive but not enough to earn the top job.

"He has already achieved enormous success. He can cause damage in his old camp for Hollande but he will not enough enough support to become king himself," Fourquet said.

“The challenge is Herculean wrote Cecile Cornudet in Les Echos. "Even if in just one day Emmanuel Macron showed he was right on one point. The wait for “something else” is immense."

Macron has eight months to be that "something else". Would you bet against a banker?


Ben McPartland (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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