Macron flexes new-found international star power

French President Emmanuel Macron's penchant for speaking his mind is well known - in the past week, he blasted Russian-owned media while standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the latter's visit to France.
French President Emmanuel Macron's penchant for speaking his mind is well known - in the past week, he blasted Russian-owned media while standing next to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the latter's visit to France. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • In a sense, he is already a star, the prince regent of Paris and Pittsburgh alike.

Less than a month after his landslide victory in the French presidential election, the boyish and photogenic Emmanuel Macron has become the anointed darling and principal spokesman of political moderates worldwide, a fierce advocate of "radical centrism", globalisation and - following President Donald Trump's watershed decision to remove the United States from the Paris accord - curbing climate change.

By now, the willingness of the new French president - at 39, the youngest head of state anyone can remember - to speak his mind is far from a secret.

In the past week alone, Mr Macron has publicly squared off against not one but two major world leaders: Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, both of whom embrace the kind of insular nationalism Mr Macron handily defeated in the French election.

Antics such as these - a six-second handshake with Mr Trump and blasting Russian-owned media while standing next to Mr Putin - have endeared Mr Macron to supporters at home and transformed him into even more of a celebrity on social media, but his new-found star power may not translate into political power on the world stage, analysts say, and especially not with his opponents.

For some, the new French President's popularity is primarily a function of chance.

"There is the feeling that, once more, Macron is incredibly lucky," said Mr Dominique Moisi, a foreign policy expert at the Institut Montaigne, a Paris-based think-tank close to Mr Macron. "Inside, all his adversaries are collapsing one after the other. And outside, there is an American President that makes him look great without even having to do anything."

In Paris, many interpret Mr Macron's embrace of theatrical declarations as a means of boosting his popularity with voters in advance of France's two-round legislative elections, slated for the middle of this month.

Despite his landslide victory in the presidential contest, Mr Macron is still a political unknown without formal party backing. His ability to govern and to deliver on his ambitious campaign promises depends on a parliamentary majority for the new party he established last year, La Republique en Marche (Forward, the Republic).

"Everything is done to seduce the voters and, for the moment, it works well," said Dr Patrick Weil, a French legal scholar.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 04, 2017, with the headline 'Macron flexes new-found international star power'. Print Edition | Subscribe