by Fran BLANDY
PARIS:- Having mastered the piano, philosophy, the world of finance and the tango, Emmanuel Macron dazzled his way into the corridors of French power to become economy minister at the tender age of 36.
It is there that the clean-cut whizz-kid faces his greatest test yet: convincing the notoriously change-averse French to accept reforms to kickstart their moribund economy.
Yet even that tricky task is unlikely to faze the go-getter, who at age 17 ran off with his high-school French teacher — a woman 20 years his senior to whom he is now married.
“France is sick. It’s not well,” the outspoken Macron said after his surprise appointment in August.
The former Rothschild banker has ruffled several leftist feathers with his demands for economic reforms, criticism of the sacrosanct 35-hour work week and efforts to break with another hallowed French tradition: no Sunday trading.
On Wednesday he will reveal a much-anticipated ream of measures to unblock France’s stagnating economy, merely a whiff of which has already sparked countless protests.
Lawyers and notaries have taken to the streets in opposition to the proposed liberalisation of their sectors, and unions are up in arms over Macron’s plan to allow shops to open on up to 12 Sundays a year instead of the current five.
The latest set of reforms follow an earlier government deal giving tax breaks to businesses in exchange for job creation which was much maligned by dyed-in-the-wool Socialists.
But Macron is unflinching and unapologetic about what he described as “a political risk not natural for a leftist government”.
He has said France’s sky-high unemployment and flatlining growth is the result of “a lack of competitiveness, a loss of French economic muscle, too-weak margins, a lack of mobility in our society”.
“If approval was a criterion in this country, nothing would ever get done.”
– ‘Tyrannosauruses and other velociraptors’ –
There is no question about it, Macron is a man in a hurry.
Born in the northern French city of Amiens, Macron began his career with a masters in philosophy — touching upon Machiavelli — and was the last assistant to the late philosopher Paul Ricoeur.
He then trod the path essential to joining France’s political class by graduating from the elite ENA academy. Macron also found time to learn German and become an award-winning pianist.
In his dizzying rise to the top, Macron would meet and become a close ally of now-President Francois Hollande while working for a commission charged with identifying ways to modernise the French economy.
In 2008, he was snapped up by the Rothschild banking group where he quickly climbed the ranks and became a millionaire.
Hollande kept Macron — a card-carrying Socialist since age 24 — by his side in his rise to the presidency, while publicly dubbing the world of finance his number-one enemy.
When he captured the Elysee in 2012, Hollande took Macron with him as a senior member of his staff, and made him economy minister two years later after a cabinet revolt over the direction the country’s economy was taking.
While some critics say Macron’s proposed reforms are too timid, his approach has sharply divided the Socialist Party, with the hardened left rump calling for a vote against the package which they see as too business-friendly.
The website of newsweekly Le Point wrote in an editorial Monday that for Macron, taking on some “fossilised” views, the week ahead “was nearly as dangerous as a visit to Jurassic Park with tyrannosauruses and other velociraptors roaming free”.