Hollande and Valls congratulated themselves on an imaginative choice, and Macron set out to please Brussels by cutting France’s deficit while encouraging business activity. In 2015 he introduced la loi Macron, a measure designed to stimulate growth by abolishing public service monopolies and union restrictions on hours. This had to be forced through the National Assembly by decree, against the opposition of Socialist deputies, an unpopular move that consecrated Macron as the bête noire of the left.
As the months in office passed, Macron openly developed a separate political agenda, often disagreeing in public with Valls. Soon after his appointment, a mysterious movement appeared called ‘Les Jeunes avec Macron’ (‘Young people for Macron’). This was launched as a ‘spontaneous’ internet site, but quickly grew into a well-organised group numbering several thousand activists whose average age was said to be 33.
Macron then began to dominate the debate on European and welfare policy — but Hollande and Valls did nothing to rein him in. In 2015, a few days after Hollande insisted that Macron was ‘respecting his authority’, the maverick minister attacked the wealth tax — a central plank of Socialist fiscal policy since it was introduced in 1989. Meanwhile, party leaders mocked his inexperience and lack of support on the left, and estimated his electoral appeal at 6 per cent.
Undaunted, the economics minister announced that he was forming his own political ‘movement’, ‘En Marche!’ (Let’s Go!), ‘open to everyone of progressive views’ and ‘aimed at younger voters’. Last August he started touring French holiday resorts appealing for a vision that would ‘re-forge the country’s politics, culture and ideology’. At the end of the month he announced his resignation, and in November he launched the presidential campaign that he must have been secretly preparing ever since he joined the government.
As a presidential candidate, Macron is seen as an outsider, someone who will ‘break the system’ and challenge the stifling consensus of unions, over-entitled functionaries and remarkably youthful pensioners that prevents France from responding to the challenges of globalization.
Could Emmanuel Macron, a François Hollande protégé, succeed him as president?