'King Macron': French President Earns Comparisons To Napoleon

Jul 6, 2017
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So this G-20 summit is happening. Heads of state from around Europe will be there, alongside President Trump. Emmanuel Macron is one of them. The new French president has been in office for a little over two months. And his party has had a huge majority in Parliament. Some say the concentration of power in one man and the party he founded is worrisome. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports on the man some are calling King Macron.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The transformation was immediate. The night he was elected, the approachable candidate Emmanuel Macron, the one who kicked soccer balls around with kids, was gone.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: In his place emerged as a solitary figure filled with gravitas. On election night, commentators talked excitedly about the symbolism as Macron strode across the courtyard of the Louvre, palace of French kings, to Beethoven's "Ode To Joy," hymn of the European Union. Political analyst Christophe Barbier says the French may have thought they were electing a young, modern leader. But Macron is actually an old-style president.

CHRISTOPHE BARBIER: He walks very slow, very slow with Putin in Versailles, very slow in the Louvre on the evening of his victory. Just like he would want to say to us, I take my time because I am the son of a very, very long history.

BEARDSLEY: In a perfectly choreographed meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Versailles last month, Macron used the grandeur of French kings to wow Putin and master the encounter. Pollster Edouard Le Cerf says for now, the French are happy with Macron's style. It comes as a relief after the lackluster Francois Hollande.

EDOUARD LE CERF: We have a president that, now, everybody is looking at. And everybody is considering him as a new strongman in Europe. He is able to balance in a different way the powers between France and Germany and make Europe strong and ambitious again.

BEARDSLEY: But the media is chafing under Macron's imperious, scripted communication style and careful staging of events. There are no leaks in his administration. And Macron, unlike Hollande, does not chitchat with journalists. He even cancelled the traditional Bastille Day interview with two TV anchors. Macron's spokesperson said the president's thoughts are too complex for journalists' questions.

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PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Instead, this week, Macron decided to address the more than 900 members of the French House and the Senate in a kind of State of the Union speech. Macron told lawmakers he has a clear mandate from the people to transform the country, and that includes reducing their numbers by a third to make government more efficient.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMONSTRATION, CROSSTALK)

BEARDSLEY: A group of parliamentarians from the far-left gathered to boycott Macron's speech. Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the France Unbowed party, called Macron a threat to democracy.

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JEAN-LUC MELENCHON: (Through interpreter) Don't be intimidated by this president's anti-parliament, populist demagoguery. You heard him. He's threatening us.

BEARDSLEY: Macron says he wants his presidential style to be like Jupiter, the all-powerful Roman god of the gods. Political analysts Barbier does not believe Macron wants more power. He just has a different style of leadership. Still, Barbier says there are parallels to be drawn between the new president and Napoleon, who brought France from the 18th century into modernity.

BARBIER: And I think Macron wants to build the same bridge between 20th century and 21 century. We are still in the 20th century in France, our way of life, the French way to work.

BEARDSLEY: Barbier says, like Napoleon, Macron wants to completely transform the country and build a new France for the 21st century. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.