Emmanuel Macron, France’s chief risk taker | FinancialTimes

Emmanuel Macron likes to take risks. Faced with anti-vaccination protests during the Covid-19 pandemic, the French president could have backed down as he faced the anti-government yellow vests protests three years earlier. Instead, he upped the ante, declaring his wish to “piss off” the unvaccinated and insisting that only the vaccinated should be allowed into bars and restaurants.

Macron’s sometimes unpopular application of digital “health passes” and later “vaccination passes” paid off and saved lives. At the start of the pandemic, few people were more skeptical of vaccines than the French. Today, 78% are fully vaccinated, more than in Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States.

He took a different kind of risk with his battle for re-election. Concerned about the Russian invasion of Ukraine and his responsibility for European leadership during France’s tenure as the rotating EU presidency, Macron waited until the last moment before briefly declaring his intention to run for a second term in office. presidency.

At first, his campaign team feared he had left it too late. While Macron was in Brussels, Moscow and kyiv, Marine Le Pen, the far-right nationalist leader who will face him in the second and final round of voting on Sunday, crisscrossed France listening sympathetically to popular concerns about the cost of life. and portraying Macron as an aloof “globalist” who cared more about foreigners than the French.

The latest opinion polls suggest that Macron has again made the political calculation right by limiting his campaign to a few frantic weeks before the first round of voting a fortnight ago. He comfortably led the pack with 28% of the vote, followed by Le Pen with 23%.

Macron remains favorite to win the presidency on Sunday. Her previously narrow lead in the polls has widened in recent days as voters weigh up Le Pen’s radically nationalist, eurosceptic and anti-immigration agenda, although she still has an outside chance to cause an upheaval similar to the vote on Brexit or the election of Donald Trump in the United States. six years ago.

This is not the first time that Macron has made a political bet. As a 39-year-old upstart who had never held elected office, he swept aside mainstream French politicians with a cry of “neither right nor left” and won the Elysee Palace in 2017.

Another victory would mark the first time in 20 years that a French president has won a second term, and the first in more than five decades for a president fully in charge of politics and not in “cohabitation” with a government and a prime minister from France. another political party. complexion supported by the separately elected National Assembly.

The five-year term that Macron is about to conclude, like his brief re-election campaign, has demonstrated the strengths and weaknesses of this atypical French politician, a graduate of the elite Ecole Nationale d’Administration and a worked as a Rothschild banker and economy minister. in a socialist government before reaching his goal at the Elysée.

Macron, now 44, is still brimming with energy, ambition and ideas. He believes his mission is to reconcile his country’s fractured society and pursue economic reform, while restoring France and Europe to their rightful place of strategic, industrial and cultural preeminence in the world.

“He thinks he is the Joan of Arc of the 21st century,” says an admiring government official, explaining with a touch of irony that Macron has the ambition and the sparkle required of a presidential candidate. “He thinks he was touched by the hand of God.”

The downside is that Macron is regularly accused by voters of being an arrogant “president of the rich” and is hated, particularly on the left, to an unusual degree, even in a country known for its revolutionary urge to decapitate its leaders.

Aided by the structure of the Fifth Republic instituted by Charles de Gaulle in 1958, Macron centralized power and decision-making at the Elysée Palace and within himself, even on subjects like science and medicine, in which he did not has no prior expertise.

“He will not just accept the ideas of his advisers,” says a business leader who has known him since he was minister in 2014 and hopes to see him re-elected. “He listens to everyone and decides alone.”

Macron’s decision to confront the anti-vaxxers, this person says, was typical of the heavy-handed approach that has often offended the French. “His general philosophy is that if there’s a problem, you have to say clearly what it is, and if you have a policy, you have to state it. And it was better to take liberties away from the unvaccinated than from the general population.

Even if he is re-elected on Sunday, Macron will need his supporters to win the National Assembly elections in June to be able to govern effectively, and will have to face a country where only a minority wholeheartedly support his internationalist liberal vision. In the first round, nearly 60% of voters backed far-right or far-left candidates.

This time at least he has experience and he shows no signs of backing down. “Every time I go out, I meet fellow citizens who don’t like what I’m doing or what I’m offering,” a combative Macron said during a recent campaign trip to a small town in Brittany. “They button me and I answer them. . . I take risks all the time.

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