Analysis & Opinions - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

An Air of Camelot on the Champs-Elysees

| May 19, 2017

"He's young, he's handsome, he’s intelligent," exulted a French matron in the huge crowd along the Champs-Elysees as they watched the JFK-like Emmanuel Macron stride among them on Monday, May 15. Macron had just drubbed his populist, far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, 66 percent to 33 percent in the presidential vote.

As the French do it in an unparalleled way, earning the bon mot that France is a monarchy disguised as a republic, the transition of power went off with pomp and precision. It was accompanied by handshakes and cheek-pats between the outgoing Socialist president, a slightly fattened Francois Hollande, and his former economics minister, now his successor.

In a gesture of support for the military, Macron took the unprecedented step of riding down the Champs Elysees at the head of the parade in a military rather than a civilian vehicle and of visiting three wounded French soldiers in this first day of his tenure. He has named as his prime minister Edouard Philippe, a tall, center-right politician who likes to box in his spare time.

Though hardly in the dimensions of Charles de Gaulle, the new French President resembles his predecessor of the far past in claiming to represent not a political party but a movement ("La Republique en Marche!"), embracing both the left and the right.

Without a political party, the 39-year-old Macron, the youngest French president ever, faces a huge challenge in the upcoming parliamentary elections in June. Lacking a political base, he will have to depend on the momentum effect of a "French spring." Judging from the enthusiasm of the turnout last Monday, he may well snap he French out of their legendary morosity.

Statements and views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author and do not imply endorsement by Harvard University, the Harvard Kennedy School, or the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

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For Academic Citation:

Cogan, Charles.“An Air of Camelot on the Champs-Elysees.” Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, May 19, 2017