Iconoclast Economy Minister Mixes It Up

He’s a kickboxer and a football fanatic, an accomplished pianist and possibly the next president of France—and only 38.

Emmanuel Macron, the new face of French politics?

With the launch, earlier in April, of “En Marche!” (On the Move!), a political party seeking to bridge the divide between right and left, François Hollande’s former adviser and current Economy minister Emmanuel Macron already shaking up French politics ahead of next year’s presidential race.

His rise has been meteoric. A former Rothschild banker, he was unknown to the general public until Hollande gave him the finance post two years ago. Confident and upbeat, he rose in the polls as one of France’s most popular political figures — a remarkable feat since he doesn’t belong to any political party and has never run for office. “Today he is certainly the best embodiment of the popular will for political renewal,” says Eddy Fougier, political analyst at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs. “However, to win the presidential election he needs to win the primaries first, and this will prove very hard, given our highly bipolarized system.”

Thomas Guénolé, a professor at The Paris Institute of Political Studies, agrees: “If French voters want to dismantle the French model and build a political ‘great center’ including center-left and center-right, then Macron is the perfect champion. But with our two-round presidential election system, he is a perfect second-round candidate who will probably never survive the first round.”

But Jim Shields, professor of French politics and modern history at Aston University in Birmingham, England, thinks “Being an outsider is both a strength and a weakness: He has no political base, and is loathed by a section of the Socialist Party who see him as an opportunistic economic liberal.” Yet his plan to [dispense with France’s] traditiional debate between statism and the free market and tackle the country’s low growth and high unemployment could have cross-party appeal: “He is capitalizing on widespread exasperation with ‘politics as usual.’” But, he notes, Nicolas Sarkozy was also a young iconoclastic and became the most unpopular president in French history.