PARIS – In just five years as France's president, Emmanuel Macron has gone from a young newbie in politics to a key world player and weighty decision-maker in the European Union who has been deeply involved in efforts to end Russia’s war in Ukraine.
And now he has won a second term, the first French president to do so in a generation.
The outspoken 44-year-old centrist, with his non-stop diplomatic activism, doesn’t always get his way but has earned his place on the international scene. He is expected to pivot back to his work on Ukraine.
At home, Macron managed to regain some popularity after the “yellow vest” protests against social injustice sent his approval to record lows in 2018. Opinion polls say many French praise his presidential stature and consider him up to the job to face major global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic and the Ukraine conflict.
They also show he is often perceived as arrogant and out of touch with ordinary people.
Macron has notably been dubbed “president of the rich,” especially during the yellow vest crisis. Some critics also denounce a perceived authoritarian attitude, holding him responsible for violent incidents involving police during street protests.
The job of president is his first elected office, though he came with a strong pedigree.
Macron studied at France’s elite school Ecole Nationale d’Administration, and he was a senior civil servant, then a banker at Rothschild for a few years, then economic adviser to Socialist President Francois Hollande.
He emerged from that backstage role onto the political scene when he served as economy minister in Hollande’s government from 2014 to 2016.
A series of political surprises — including a corruption scandal involving a key rival — thrust Macron toward presidential victory in 2017. He easily beat far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in their runoff that year on promises to free up France’s economy to boost job creation and attract foreign investment. He beat her again Sunday, but the race was closer and Macron acknowledged that some voters had backed him only to keep Le Pen out of the presidency.
Macron, who describes himself as “a president who believes in Europe,” argues the EU is the way for France to be stronger in a global world.
A strong advocate of entrepreneurial spirit, he has eased rules to hire and fire workers and to made it harder to get unemployment benefits. Critics accuse him of destroying worker protections.
Then the pandemic hit, and he acknowledged the crucial role of the state in supporting the economy, spending massively and vowing to support employees and business via public aid “whatever it costs.”
In his biggest campaign rally near Paris earlier this month, Macron paid an emotional tribute to his wife, Brigitte, the person “I care the most about.” They could be seen on the stadium’s giant screens sending kisses to each other.
On Sunday evening, they arrived hand in hand on the plaza near the Eiffel Tower where Macron made his victory speech.
As first lady, Brigitte Macron, 24 years his senior, has been involved in charities and other programs promoting culture, education and health.
Their romance started when he was a student at the high school where she was teaching in northern France. At the time a married mother of three, she was supervising the drama club. Macron, a literature lover, was a member.
Macron moved to Paris for his last year of high school. She eventually moved to the French capital to join him and divorced. They married in 2007.
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