Independent centrist Emmanuel Macron, a 39-year-old political neophyte, has officially become the youngest president ever elected in France and the youngest serving leader of a G7 nation.Sunday morning’s handover of power between the outgoing Socialist François Hollande and his onetime protégé Macron was marked by pomp, ceremony, and symbolism – with some of the business of power thrown in as the new president named the first members of his presidential staff.
There was evident affection in the passing of the torch from a president so unpopular he declined to stand for re-election and the young upstart Macron, unknown to the general public only three years ago, who gambled on quitting as economy minister last year to mount his own bid for the presidency, and won.
Macron and Hollande spent an hour in discussion in the president’s office before the handover ceremony, considerably longer than had been scheduled, before Macron walked his predecessor to a waiting late-model Citroën DS in the palace courtyard to the applause of staff. Hollande called out, “Bon courage!” as he stepped into the vehicle and was driven off into the history books.
When one recalls how many genuine Hollande rivals had for years been tipped one after another as favourites to march up the red-carpeted courtyard Elysée Palace on Sunday as the Socialist’s successor – from conservative former president Nicolas Sarkozy to conservative former prime ministers Alain Juppé and François Fillon, not to mention the populist spitfire Marine Le Pen, this election’s presidential runner-up – the manifest congeniality, even affection, in Sunday’s handover is unsurprising. Macron took part in Hollande’s successful 2012 campaign and served under him as advisor at the Elysée, before being named unexpectedly to fill the economy minister role from 2014 to 2016.
Fabius served as foreign minister in a government alongside Macron until February 2016. Perhaps more pertinently, the 70-year-old Socialist elder statesman was France’s youngest prime minister when he was named at 37 to the office in 1984. (At the time, the future president Macron was only six.)
Quite apart from Macron’s investiture speech, delivered in solemn tones, there were pointed signals of youthful vitality, of a new generation in the palace. After Hollande’s exit and a brief photo call at the top of the palace steps with his wife Brigitte, 64, Macron was seen running up an interior staircase, bounding toward the presidential office to dispatch with a matter of protocol.
Despite its austere delivery, Macron’s speech, too, was a youthfully optimistic one – his critics may say “naïve” – rife with terms like “confidence” and “vigour”, in which he called his run-off victory against Le Pen a choice of “hope and the spirit of conquest”.
“The world and Europe today more than ever need France. They need a France that is strong and assured about its destiny. They need a France that holds high the voice of liberty and solidarity,” Macron said. He pledged to “give back to the French their confidence in themselves” in order to surmount French society’s divisions. “Everything that contributes to France’s vigour and prosperity will be implemented,” he promised.
Later, as the new president greeted guests, one of the pieces of accompanying music selected, from Offenbach’s Orpheus – a French can-can number – leant a jaunty joy to the proceedings that surprised many. After the optimistic discourse, it leant a bit of fun. As in, to paraphrase Barack Obama, “Yes, we can-can.”
The pitter-patter of little feet was also striking. After greeting dozens of dignitaries with handshakes and exchanged words, the new president bent to deliver two-cheek kisses to waiting children – some of Macron’s step-grandchildren, of whom he has seven under the age of 12.
Aides, meanwhile, had gone out of their way to stress the reasonable price tag on Macron’s suit, a €450 dark blue number from his Parisian tailor – a means of breaking with his former investment banker image as much as a contrast with disgraced conservative François Fillon, whose campaign was dogged by scandal including the gift of suits worth thousands of euros. Brigitte Macron’s blue-lavender Vuitton dress, meanwhile, was only a loaner, the press was told, pointedly.