More than 3,500 French people turned up to hear Emmanuel Macron speak in Westminster last week. Even considering that London is now referred to as France’s sixth biggest city, given how many French people live and work here, that’s an impressive turnout. It’s hard to imagine a Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn creating the same buzz among British expats in Paris.
But this is not new for Macron. The independent centrist presidential candidate has been filling halls across France, attracting younger crowds especially. One wonders what he’s been saying to these filled halls, considering he only announced his programme this week. Yet with or without a plan, Macron has been running consistently high in the polls, ever since the Francois Fillon scandal broke. He is usually placed second after Front National’s Marine Le Pen, but some polls predict him as victor and next president of France.
Macron’s rise is the latest in a string of surprises that are now typifying the 2017 French election. He is the youngest candidate by far, at 39, and has no official party, just his ‘En Marche’ (Moving Forward) movement. He claims to be neither left-wing nor right-wing, though he worked as economy minister for a period under Francois Hollande’s Parti Socialiste (PS) government. He is also the only candidate never to have held elected office. He began his career as a civil servant, then paid his way out of the government contract to become a Rothschild banker. He was was brought into the Hollande government by then prime minister Manuel Valls as a consultant before becoming minister for economy, industry and digital affairs. He resigned in the summer of 2016, launching his presidential campaign a few months later.
Unsurprisingly, the former investment banker has based his political plans on the importance of business – a not un-savvy move given France’s stagnant economy and high unemployment rate. He wants to lower business tax, add more flexibility to the sacred 35-hour working week, and modify an unemployment and benefits system which he says does not encourage people to go to work (it is true that French benefits are particularly generous). This focus on business could explain why younger generations are so enthusiastic about him, especially in larger cities like Paris. And his energy has no doubt tapped into a desire among French people to break free of the pall cast over the nation by numerous terrorist attacks.
Francois Bayrou, leader of centrist party Mouvement Democrate, this week announced he will not be standing for election and has formed an alliance with Macron, a move which should boost Macron’s campaign, as he’s likely to receive the bulk of Bayrou’s support. Macron is now considered by many to be the best chance of stopping a Le Pen presidency. But is that really the case?