Emmanuel Macron took power as president of France on Sunday, vowing to restore the country’s status in Europe and the world and heal divisions in society — a nod to the bitter campaign the pro-EU centrist fought to defeat a far-right leader.
The 39-year-old former investment banker, unknown to the wider public three years ago and whose May 7 election marked a meteoric rise to power, was inaugurated leader of the world’s fifth-largest economy in a solemn Elysee Palace ceremony.
In his first words after taking office, he pledged to restore France’s standing on the world stage, strengthen national self-confidence and heal divisions that the bitterly-fought campaign had opened up.
Macron beat the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in a May 7 run-off vote but the long campaign exposed deep divisions over France’s role in Europe, immigration, and policies to revive a sluggish economy bedeviled by high unemployment.
“The division and fractures in our society must be overcome. I know that the French expect much from me. Nothing will make me stop defending the higher interests of France and from working to reconcile the French,” Macron declared.
Although his victory over Le Pen was comfortable, almost half of France’s 47 million voters chose candidates with views opposed to Macron’s in the first round of the election.
Many say they feel dispossessed by globalization as manufacturing jobs move abroad and as immigration and a fast-changing world blur their sense of a French identity.
A convinced European integrationist unlike Le Pen and other leadership candidates, Macron went on: “The world and Europe need more than ever France, and a strong France, which speaks out loudly for freedom and solidarity.”
Seeking closer ties with EU anchor nation Germany, Macron will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Monday. He will ram home the message that the European Union is resilient despite Britain’s vote to leave and a spate of financial and migration crises that have boosted the far right.
Monday will also see Macron name his prime minister, whose job will be to pilot liberalizing reforms aimed at reducing joblessness and reviving economic growth.