PARIS — First-time politician Emmanuel Macron was inaugurated Sunday as France’s president, facing the difficult task of transforming electoral success into political strength in a society beset by unemployment and divided by anger.
The solemn ceremony in the gilded halls of the Elysee Palace capped Macron’s rise from political obscurity just a year ago, when he was the economy minister starting a long-shot centrist bid against the parties that had run the nation for decades. Now the 39-year-old is France’s youngest leader since Napoleon.
Macron won after a bitter campaign against a strong far-right opponent, Marine Le Pen, who delivered the best-ever result for the country’s far-right party after her furious denunciations of immigration and open borders.
He is an outlier in this era of crusading populist politicians: a head of state who unapologetically embraces the borderless European Union and the economic opportunities and disruptions of globalization. The stakes are high in his effort to deliver on his promises. If he fails to budge France’s stubbornly high joblessness, the far-right National Front may roar back stronger than ever in 2022 elections, a step that could bring the entire European Union tumbling down.
On Sunday, Macron sought to inject fresh optimism into a French public so disillusioned with the political establishment that in the first round of the presidential elections nearly half of its voters opted for candidates who wanted to blow up the nation’s political order. Macron’s predecessor, Socialist President François Hollande, broke records for unpopularity after a five-year term filled with political failure.
“The world and Europe need France more than ever,” Macron said in a brief speech to a packed Elysee ballroom filled with the country’s political elite, his supporters and his family. The address came after he walked down the red carpet at the entrance to the palace to be received by Hollande, who launched Macron’s career by appointing the ex-investment banker as an economic adviser, then elevating him to the economy ministry. The two huddled privately for an hour, and then Hollande departed the presidential palace for the last time in a modest Citroen sedan.
“The power of France is not declining,” Macron said. “We hold in our hands all the strengths of a power of the 21st century.”
Acknowledging the fears of the third of French voters who opted for his opponent, he said that “the French men and women who feel forgotten by this vast movement of the world have to be better protected.”
A president who has said he is “neither of the right, nor of the left” pledged to “give back the French their self-confidence.”
After the ceremony, he took part in a slow procession down the Champs-Elysees, walking and riding in a military vehicle until he reached the Arc de Triomphe and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at its base. The warm spring day in Paris was punctuated by showers, prompting one observer to joke on Twitter that it was a “very Macronian” inauguration: “it’s raining AND AT THE SAME TIME it’s lovely.”
Macron has vowed to overhaul France’s slow-growing economy by implementing business-friendly reforms while also strengthening the country’s social safety net. He has pledged to push for increased integration of countries that use the euro currency, a step that would mean rich nations such as Germany would have to pay more to support poorer ones such as Greece.
But his power to deliver change will be determined by a breakneck legislative campaign over the next four weeks. June elections will determine whether he can sweep in a majority for his new political party, Republic on the Move, which is too new to hold any seats and has nominated hundreds of people to run, half of them newcomers to political life.
If Macron fails, he will be forced to share power with his political opponents, an arrangement that could force him build a piece-by-piece majority for his reforms and sap much of his political energies.
Macron on Monday will visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, a traditional first trip to France’s most important partner that will be a test of his ability to jump-start the relationship that has driven Europe since the end of World War II. Macron already has a warm relationship with Merkel after two Berlin visits this year, but she has pushed back on some of Macron’s most ambitious plans for Europe.
A first sign of Macron’s political strategy will also come Monday, when he announces his pick for prime minister. Macron will seek to reassure voters on the left and the right that he is not moving too far away from them — all while emphasizing his newcomer bona fides.
Two candidates frequently mentioned in the French media are International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde — a onetime finance minister who has never held elected office — and the center-right mayor of the port city of Le Havre, Edouard Philippe.
“If we don’t want France to fall, he needs help,” Philippe said in an interview last month before Macron’s May 7 runoff victory. “The risk of Marine Le Pen getting elected five years from now, if Macron fails, is strong.”
Birnbaum reported from Brussels.