French revolution

As Brilliant As He is Unpopular

FRANCE-GOVERNMENT-ECONOMY-MACRON
Reform minded.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    France’s economics minister is disliked by the left-wing of France’s ruling Socialist party because of his wealthy background and drive for reform. But he has the president’s ear and is considered a brilliant financial mind.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Emmanuel Macron is only 36 years old and has been economics minister since June.
    • He graduated France’s elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration and wrote his dissertation on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right.
    • Mr. Macron unsuccessfully lobbied French President Hollande to follow a courageous reform plan.
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    Audio

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His sharp suits, slightly mocking smile and millions in assets have turned Emmanuel Macron into a hate figure among France’s ruling socialists. They consider the new economics minister a villain who convinced President François Hollande to renounce his left-wing election promises and perform a liberal turnaround.

They have a short memory. The 36-year-old former investment banker did not distort Hollande’s program. He actually co-wrote it.

Mr. Macron, the son of two doctors, joined France’s Socialist Party at age 24 and was already one of President Hollande’s closest economic advisers before the latter’s 2012 election win. At that time, he worked at the Rothschild & Cie Bank.

He had studied former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s reforms and wanted to persuade the French Socialists, known for their adversity to change, to alter their path.

After the election win, Mr.  Macron was rewarded with a key post: deputy secretary general of the Élysées. the presidential office. All of the important dossiers, from fiscal policy to the planned merger of Airbus and BAE Systems, landed on his desk. He also came to an agreement with the German federal government.

As economics minister, he is now the main driver for reform in the government of French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, whom he is accompanying on a trip to Berlin and Hamburg this week.

His meteoric rise made some admire him, but even more envy him. As someone who wrote his dissertation on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, entered the upper echelons of the French Economics Ministry after graduating from the elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration and then switched to the Rothschild & Cie Bank – and is also an accomplished pianist – Mr. Macron is hard for the less brilliant to bear.

His reputation as an arrogant high flyer could, however, spell his downfall, even if Mr. Macron has little of the “gauche caviar” of a typical champagne socialist. Unlike his leftist colleagues, he does not flaunt his personal life and does not have liaisons with actresses, but is married to a teacher 20 years his senior. She taught him French grammar when he was a schoolboy.

His reputation as an arrogant high flyer could, however, spell his downfall, even if Mr. Macron has little of the “gauche caviar” of a typical champagne socialist.

But his relationship with Mr. Hollande is not without tension. In June 2014, he resigned his government role after detecting that his influence over the president wasn’t as great as others assumed it was. Instead of the courageous reforms championed by Mr. Macron, Mr. Hollande had instead chosen a zigzag path. Despite his withdrawal, the recently concluded €40 billion relief package for businesses is regarded as Mr. Macron’s work.

His return as Economics Minister only two months later was thanks to the sacking of his predecessor Arnaud Montebourg, who wanted more state control over the economy. That bothered the leftists.

“Montebourg was a politician, his successor is Merkel’s lapdog,” said Aquilino Morelle, the leftist former presidential speechwriter who was let go after a corruption affair.

Mr. Macron himself says, “I am not a politician.” And maybe he doesn’t conform to the norm. He had to apologize in parliament after he said that many of the female employees of a bankrupt slaughterhouse in Brittany were illiterate, and that France must invest more in further education.

In reality, many of the slaughterhouse employees cannot read or write. But instead of this fact becoming the scandal, talking about it has become one.

Before becoming a minister, the millionaire had already attracted attention after calling into question the 35-hour working week, one of the most holy tenants of the socialists. He had to quickly backpedal.

The question now is whether Mr. Macron will once again crumple in the face of opposition, or  step out of his banker’s suit to fight for his ideas.

The author is Handelsblatt’s Paris correspondent. Contact: hanke@handelsblatt.com

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