Macron faces un­prece­dented chal­lenge

Lesotho Times - - International -

PARIS — French cen­trist Em­manuel Macron faces an un­prece­dented chal­lenge in his quest for the French pres­i­dency: A new­comer to pol­i­tics, he was vir­tu­ally un­known to most of his coun­try­men just three years ago.

Now the tena­cious 39-yearold with strong pro-busi­ness and pro-euro­pean views, and an un­con­ven­tional love story, is poised to face far-right Na­tional Front leader Marine Le Pen in the May 7 pres­i­den­tial runoff.

A joy­ful crowd of some 2,000 sup­port­ers gath­ered at his elec­tion head­quar­ters in Paris cheered wildly at the an­nounce­ment that Macron will ad­vance to the sec­ond round.

Their en­thu­si­asm only grew when ma­jor ri­vals So­cial­ist Benoit Ha­mon and con­ser­va­tive Fran­cois Fil­lon con­ceded de­feat, then urged vot­ers to vote for Macron in the runoff in or­der to de­feat Le Pen.

In an Amer­i­can-style move un­usual in French pol­i­tics, Macron ap­peared on stage hand in hand with his wife, Brigitte, both wav­ing at the crowd with tears in their eyes.

Brigitte Macron is 24 years his se­nior — the same age dif­fer­ence as Don­ald and Me­la­nia Trump— and Macron doesn’t hide that she is his clos­est ad­viser.

In his speech, Macron praised sup­port­ers for a cam­paign that “changed the course of our coun­try.” Urg­ing hope in a fu­ture with Europe in­stead of fear — a ref­er­ence to Le Pen’s anti-euro­pean Union cam­paign — he de­clared: “The chal­lenge is to open a new page of our po­lit­i­cal life.”

Many in the ju­bi­lant crowd waved both the French tri­color and the Euro­pean Union flags, chant­ing, “We will win!”

Char­lotte Rous­se­let, 31, said she used to vote for the So­cial­ist party but be­lieves Macron has “more mod­ern, re­formist views.”

“He rep­re­sents a new way to do pol­i­tics, he pro­motes women, youth, peo­ple for the civil so­ci­ety and he’s not afraid to say that he is pro-europe”, she said.

Macron has a strong stance on eco­nomic is­sues, but he has also put more fo­cus on se­cu­rity and the fight against terrorism in re­cent weeks, pledg­ing to boost the po­lice and mil­i­tary as well as the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices and to put pres­sure on in­ter­net giants to bet­ter mon­i­tor ex­trem­ism on­line.

To im­prove Europe’s se­cu­rity, he wants the EU to de­ploy some 5,000 Euro­pean border guards to the ex­ter­nal bor­ders of the bloc’s pass­port-free travel zone.

A strong ad­vo­cate of a free mar­ket and en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit,

Macron has called for France to fo­cus on get­ting ben­e­fits from glob­al­iza­tion rather than the protec-

tion­ist poli­cies ad­vo­cated by both the far right and the far left.

“We need Europe, my friends, so

we will re­build it,” he told a crowd at a rally in Paris this week. “Be­cause we will be stronger, I will re­build a strong and bal­anced al­liance with Ger­many in or­der to give Europe a new boost.”

Macron has also promised to shake up the po­lit­i­cal land­scape by ap­point­ing a gov­ern­ment mostly com­posed of new fig­ures, some of them com­ing from busi­ness and civil so­ci­ety.

Macron has never held elected of­fice. So­cial­ist pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande named him econ­omy min­is­ter in 2014, af­ter he worked for two years as a top ad­viser on eco­nomic is­sues at the pres­i­den­tial palace.

He launched his own po­lit­i­cal move­ment, En Marche! (In Mo­tion!) last year to sup­port his can­di­dacy.

Macron and his wife have pub­licly de­scribed the un­usual way their ro­mance started — when he was a stu­dent at the high school where she was a teacher in the town of Amiens in north­ern France.

A mar­ried mother of three chil­dren at the time, she was su­per­vis­ing the drama club. Macron, a lit­er­a­ture lover, was a mem­ber.

Macron moved to Paris for his last year of high school. At that time, “we called each other all the time, we spent hours on the phone, hours and hours on the phone,” Brigitte Macron re­called in a tele­vised doc­u­men­tary.

“Lit­tle by lit­tle, he over­came all my re­sis­tances in an un­be­liev­able way, with pa­tience.”

She even­tu­ally moved to the French cap­i­tal to join him, and di­vorced. They’ve been to­gether ever since.

The cou­ple mar­ried in 2007 and Brigitte Macron has cam­paigned avidly by his side.

“I don’t hide her,” Macron told BFM TV this week. “She’s here in my life, she has al­ways been.”

Macron stud­ied phi­los­o­phy and then at­tended France’s elite Ecole Na­tionale d’ad­min­is­tra­tion for grad­u­ate school.

Af­ter work­ing as a pub­lic ser­vant for sev­eral years, he be­came an in­vest­ment banker at Roth­schild. As econ­omy min­is­ter, he pro­moted a pack­age of eco­nomic mea­sures — known as the Macron law — aim­ing at loos­en­ing some of France’s strin­gent la­bor rules in the hope of boost­ing job hir­ing.

The law no­tably al­lows more stores to open on Sun­days and evenings and opens up reg­u­lated sec­tors of the econ­omy.

Macron was ac­cused by many on the left of de­stroy­ing work­ers pro­tec­tion. The par­lia­men­tary de­bate on the law drove tens of thou­sands of peo­ple into the streets for months of protests across France.

French cen­trist pres­i­den­tial can­di­date em­manuel Macron.

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