- Title: Bubble hasn't burst for France's Macron as he sets sights on presidency
- Date: 16th January 2017
- Summary: PARIS, FRANCE (FILE - DECEMBER 1, 2016) (REUTERS) **** WARNING CONTAINS FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY **** VARIOUS OF MACRON POSING FOR PHOTOGRAPHS
- Embargoed: 30th January 2017 16:30
- Keywords: Macron presidential election En Marche left right primary
- Location: PARIS, NEVERS AND BOULOGNE-BILLANCOURT, FRANCE / BERLIN, GERMANY
- City: PARIS, NEVERS AND BOULOGNE-BILLANCOURT, FRANCE / BERLIN, GERMANY
- Country: France
- Topics: Government/Politics,Elections/Voting
- Reuters ID: LVA00A5ZBYZPJ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: French presidential hopeful Emmanuel Macron was once written off by critics as a media darling with a short shelf life but less than three months before polling day the outsider is going from strength to strength, attracting support and alarm from across the political spectrum.
Since quitting the Socialist government of former mentor in President Francois Hollande last August, the former investment banker has travelled the country, shaking hands and shaking up the political landscape.
A complete unknown until Hollande made him economy minister in 2014, Macron has never held elected office but in recent months has become France's most popular politician, in with a fighting chance of becoming president before his 40th birthday.
"He's young, he's got his whole future ahead of him, I think he seems very nice. I'm all for him," Parisian Marguerite Clement told Reuters TV on Monday (January 16).
Spurning the labels of left or right, his grassroots movement "En Marche!" or "Onwards!" has attracted much support from young voters, including 19-year-old Victor Thery who signed up last year.
"I didn't really recognise myself in any of the different political parties which already existed, I thought there were good ideas on the right, good ideas on the left, so I was pulled in both directions," he said.
Macron's rise in the polls comes as the ruling Socialists -- tired and divided after five years in government -- hold a lightning presidential primary in the absence of Hollande to pick a candidate to re-energise the left.
Macron declined to take part.
"For now Emmanuel Macron's strength -- including the fact that he's avoided the primaries -- comes from the fact that he doesn't seem to position himself in relation to the other candidates, neither left nor right, nor this one or that one, and so he seems to be talking directly to the French people by going over the heads of the politicians and the parties of government and that's what gives him his strength," political expert and strategy consultant, Stephane Rozes told Reuters TV.
Beyond the opinion polls that show him breathing down the necks of both the far-right's candidate Marine Le Pen and conservative Francois Fillon, Macron is also drawing larger crowds than other candidates in rallies across France.
Around 15,000 people came to hear him speak at a vast hanger in the south of Paris for the first major meeting of his campaign and even in remote parts of the country such as Clermont-Ferrand he gathered more than 2,000 supporters this month where former Prime Minister Manuel Valls only drew 300 people three days later, according to local media.
Many Socialists are suspicious of a man who refuses to be labelled as a left-winger.
Presidential hopeful Arnaud Montebourg, who left Hollande's government after its pro-business U-turn making way for Macron, said during a televised Socialist primary debate on January 12 that he appeared to be all things to all men.
"In a personal capacity I like Mr Emmanuel Macron a great deal, he took over from me at the economy ministry. But I've never understood what he was. For me, he's Mr X. Is he on the right, is he on the left? What does he want?" he said.
But others are starting to come round to the idea of supporting the man they see as their last hope of blocking a Fillon-Le Pen run off the second round of May's presidential election.
Macron's team says that some 50 lawmakers have already decided to back him, despite threats from the Socialist party to expel those who jumped the fence.
"Today the Socialist party candidate has no chance of winning the presidential election. At the most he might take part. So we need to get together behind a man who can win the election, a progressive as Emmanuel Macron has defined himself, and I think that eventually Socialist party politicians who are sensible will have to move towards Emmanuel Macron," Mayor of Lyon Gerard Collomb, an early Macron supporter, told Radio Classique on January 11.
No Socialist government ministers have yet to cross the Rubicon.
But Environment Minister Segolene Royal, Hollande's former partner and the Socialist presidential candidate in 2007, has kind words for the young prodigy. Early this month, she didn't rule out backing him and warned the left will have to rally behind whoever was best placed to face Fillon and Le Pen.
"Macron could win if the Socialist candidate does not prove to be equal to the problems France faces and is not able to stand to solve France's problems. Emmanuel Macron has a way of saying what's not right, and a way of saying how things could be better," Rozes said.
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