A candidate and symbol for individual initiative

Mr Herve Berville distributing his manifesto in the market of Pleneuf-Val-Andrelast Tuesday. Just 27, he was snapped up last month by President Emmanuel Macron's political movement, La Republique en Marche, to run for a seat in Parliament. Mr Bervill
Mr Herve Berville distributing his manifesto in the market of Pleneuf-Val-Andrelast Tuesday. Just 27, he was snapped up last month by President Emmanuel Macron's political movement, La Republique en Marche, to run for a seat in Parliament. Mr Berville said his "origins elicit curiosity".PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ST-JACUT-DE-LA-MER (France) • Mr Herve Berville's unlikely trajectory embodies new President Emmanuel Macron's un-French belief in the transforming power of individual initiative.

Orphaned in a Rwanda that was entering into full-fledged genocide in 1994 - his parents died before the massacre - Mr Berville was evacuated by the French Army at the age of four and put up for adoption.

A modest Breton couple in a rural town - an aviation mechanic and his hospital functionary wife - adopted him and raised him with their own four children. Recently, he was reunited with his surviving Rwandan family for the first time since early childhood, a subject Mr Berville did not care to dwell on.

He excelled in school, earned a master's degree in development economics at the London School of Economics, worked for two years as an economist in Mozambique for the French overseas development agency AFD and was a Stanford University research associate in Kenya.

He speaks fluently about developing world economic strategies, says he has never been the subject of racial discrimination in a part of France where there are few immigrants and shrewdly recognises the exoticism of his appeal to voters in today's parliamentary election.

"People come to me because of my background," Mr Berville said in an interview in Dinan. "They come to me because I am not the archetype of a traditional political movement. My origins elicit curiosity."

Later, at a town hall meeting in Lanvallay, he spoke the language of the well-versed French technocrat, fluently batting away the crowd's concerns that Mr Macron's mild deregulatory urge might leave France's well-protected citizens too exposed. "What's missing in France is fluidity in the work-employment relationship," Mr Berville said.

Mr Macron wants to open up unemployment benefits to independent workers, while loosening up the rigid French labour code to make it easier to hire and fire. His candidate in Brittany had no difficulty defending a programme "liberating energies and protecting individuals", as he put it.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 11, 2017, with the headline 'A candidate and symbol for individual initiative'. Print Edition | Subscribe