Emmanuel Macron will be sworn in as the youngest ever president of France on Sunday, inheriting a country where economic malaise and security concerns drove extremist parties to their highest ever scores in this year’s election. Macron will become the eighth directly elected president of the Fifth Republic in a ceremony at the Elysee Palace in Paris that begins at 10 a.m. local time.
The new head of state takes charge of continental Europe’s leading military power and second-largest economy as both an outsider and an insider. The 39-year-old himself benefited from the electorate’s desire for fresh faces and solutions, as the first president in the modern era to be elected without the support of France’s two main traditional parties. But he was outgoing president Francois Hollande’s economic adviser for more than two years and is deeply familiar with inner workings of the administration.
“Most presidents land in the Elysee Palace with no idea how it functions, and they learn on the job,” said Patrick Weil, a historian and political scientist with the CNRS research center in Paris. “Macron has worked there a couple years, was even the deputy chief of staff. He knows the corridors of the Elysee and how it works. He even knows the drivers.”
As per protocol, Macron and Hollande will meet for a private talk before the ceremony when, among other things, the nuclear codes will be passed on. Afterward the Elysee’s new tenant will escort the outgoing president to his car.
Macron defeated the National Front’s Marine Le Pen by 66 percent to 34 percent in the May 7 runoff after the most divisive and tumultuous election in the past half a century. While that’s the widest winning margin since Le Pen’s even-more-extreme father Jean-Marie qualified for the second round in 2002, the result hides a splintered electorate.
Polls show that at least half of those who voted for Macron did so to keep out Le Pen, who planned to leave the euro, impose trade protectionism and stop immigration. Macron ran on an unabashedly pro-European and pro-business platform, but in April 23’s first round of voting about half the electorate chose Le Pen or other extremist candidates who oppose France’s place in international organizations such as NATO and the European Union.
The 75 percent turnout last Sunday was the lowest since 1969, and the 9 percent of blank ballots was the highest ever. Still, Macron’s vote was equal to 44 percent of registered voters and that’s about average for the winners of France’s 10 presidential elections. He won a larger share than Francois Mitterrand in 1981, Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007, Jacques Chirac in 1995, or Hollande in 2012.
While multiple surveys show business confidence is at its highest level since 2011, Macron inherits an economy that has lagged the euro-area average for the past three years and where the unemployment rate remains stuck at 10 percent, roughly double the level in the U.K. and Germany. And France is still officially under emergency rule after a string of terror attacks since 2015.
What’s more, to implement his policies Macron will need to be able to put together some kind of a majority after the parliamentary elections on June 11 and June 18 in which his year-old political movement is presenting candidates for the first time.
“The unknown part now is how much power are the French voters ready to give him?,” said Weil. “Will they want him to share power? We should have the answer on June 18 after the legislative elections.”