Francois Hollande slaps down protégé Emmanuel Macron over presidential ambitions

French President says the economy minister 'knows what he owes' him

John Lichfield
Paris
Friday 15 April 2016 14:16
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President Hollande looked irritated when asked about Mr Macron's ambitions during the debate
President Hollande looked irritated when asked about Mr Macron's ambitions during the debate

The French President François Hollande has sent a warning shot across the bows of his ambitious young protégé and economy minister, Emmanuel Macron.

Questioned about speculation that Mr Macron might run for the French presidency next year, Mr Hollande, said: “He knows what he owes me. It is a question of personal and political loyalty.”

The President was speaking the week after Mr Macron, 38, launched his own political movement and on the day that he appeared

in presidential mode with his wife and family in the glossy pages of Paris Match magazine.

Mr Hollande said he had no problems with Mr Macron’s political manouevres so long as he remained “in my team and under my authority”.

The youthful economy minister, speaking during a visit to London, once again denied that he had any “immediate” presidential ambitions. He was asked about his decision to appear in a picture spread in the magazine with his wife Brigitte, who is 19 years his senior, and one of his seven step-grandchildren. He said that this was a “piece of stupidity… which won’t happen again.”

President Hollande looked irritated when questioned about Mr Macron’s ambitions during a two-hour television debate with journalists and members of the public on Thursday night. The debate was billed as Mr Hollande’s “last chance” to turn around disastrous public opinion polls before the presidential election in 12 months’ time.

The president gave a pugnacious performance in which he suggested that he and his government were being unfairly denied credit for their achievements in the last four years.

“Things are better in France. There is more growth, there are fewer debts and fewer taxes. Competitiveness is up,” he said.

In international affairs, Mr Hollande said, France had played an exemplary role” in the attempts to defeat Isis and end the civil war in Syria.

Opinion polls in recent days suggested that 89 per cent of French voters were dissatisfied with Mr Hollande’s presidency and 75 per cent thought he should not bother to run again.

The poor viewing figures for Thursday night’s TV debate – only 3,474,000 viewers compared 7,900,000 for a similar programme in 2014 – suggest that many French people have written off the President. He told one questioner that he would not decide whether to run before the end of the year but his combatative mood suggested that he has not yet given up hope.

French political commentatorss believe that there is no chance of Mr Macron defying Mr Hollande but that he is ready to challenge the Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, for the centre-left “nomination” if the President decides not to run. The reforming young economy minister, previously an adviser to the president, is currently by far the most popular member of the government.

During Thursday night’s TV debate, a group of 300 young left-wing protesters fought with riot police and smashed cars and bus shelters in central Paris after being turned back from the Elysée Palace. The group had broken away from the rolling, nocturnal demonstration called Nuit Debout (rise up at night), which claims to be a “citizens’ forum” which is trying to “restore genuine democracy”.

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