As France goes to the polls, voters are asking: who really is Emmanuel Macron? | Marion Van Renterghem

As France goes to the polls, voters are asking: who really is Emmanuel Macron? | Marion Van Renterghem

His mutability has let him straddle political divides, but now he must settle on an identity if he is to tackle the country’s crises

In the autumn of 2018, as the gilets jaunes movement took off, Emmanuel Macron faced a crisis in France that also represented a personal political failure. A little more than a year previously, he had arrived at the Elysée, elected on a centrist, social-liberal, pro-Europe agenda. He embodied fierce opposition to national populism, yet now seemed the president on whose watch populism in France was growing. At the time, I wrote an article for the Guardian asking if centrist and anti-populist leaders were creating breeding grounds for the populists they had sworn to defeat. Barack Obama, after all, had been followed by Donald Trump. In Italy, Matteo Renzi produced Matteo Salvini. In the UK, a post-Blairite Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government had produced Brexit. So after Macron, what?

The answer came on 24 April of this year: after Macron, Macron. But which Macron? And at what cost? After five years in power and embarking on a second term, the president who pledged in 2017 to “do everything to make sure you never have reason again to vote for extremes” faces the first round of legislative elections on 12 June in a political landscape more divided and extreme than ever.

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