No rest, high tempo - energetic Macron keeps Elysee agenda ticking

  • World
  • Wednesday, 25 Oct 2017

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (not seen) at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France, October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

PARIS (Reuters) - From text messages at 2 a.m. to clockwork meetings and tight deadlines, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron is shaking up how the French presidency is run, raising the tempo and stretching the limits of the largely youthful team around him.

France's political magazines are full of snippets every week about the inner workings of Macron's Elysee, whether the comings and goings of his rescue dog Nemo or details of messages sent to the foreign minister in the dead of night.

But foreign diplomats dealing with the administration also describe a different pace and style of work, saying the young president, with a background in investment banking and civil service, has injected fresh elan into the role.

Half a dozen senior European envoys, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, expressed similar views on the sharpness, energy and openness of Macron and his team, whether on specific policy discussions or wider bilateral issues.

While they were quick to emphasise that former President Francois Hollande also had a strong command of the files and a ready wit, Macron's focus, personal engagement and trust in those around him has quickened the rhythm, they said.

"There is undoubtedly a change in pace," said the ambassador of one northern European country. "It's not just in terms of ambition, but actually engagement. They are very open, they want us involved, they want us there in meetings."

Another described Macron's team as bringing a level of analysis and planning to the table that is more in tune with the worlds of investment banking and finance than politics.

On EU policy in particular -- which Macron has made a priority, delivering big-picture speeches in Athens and at the Sorbonne -- he has established a tight group of advisers and envoys around him, combining youth and experience.

As well as Philippe Etienne, 61, the former French ambassador to the EU, there is 36-year-old Clement Beaune, a graduate of the elite ENA school who was part of Macron's En Marche! movement from the beginning and is now Europe adviser. Philippe Leglise-Costa, the new representative in Brussels, and Europe minister Nathalie Loiseau are also part of the mix.


The question is whether the new energy and approach of the "Macronistas" -- which some French media have described as exhausting to the point of collapse -- can bear fruit or will prove more style than substance.

Some of the early signs are positive, particularly on Europe policy. This week, EU labour ministers agreed to amend the rules on so-called 'posted workers', a divisive issue Macron had pushed since taking office in May.

The policy allows EU employees to work elsewhere in the bloc on terms set in their home countries, which countries like France that offer strong worker protections say lets employers get around labour laws by importing workers. The ministers agreed to shorten the period of such postings.

Last month, with Elysee input, Germany's Siemens and France's Alstom agreed to merge their rail operations, creating a European champion to compete with China. The same week, France agreed to cede control of shipyard STX to Italy's Fincantieri, another sensitive move shaped by the Elysee.

The area where Macron's high-tempo agenda is proving less successful so far is euro zone financial reform. The president had hoped to work with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to overhaul monetary union, including establishing a separate budget for the 19 countries that use the euro.

The results of Germany's election last month have made that more difficult, with both Merkel's likely coalition partners, the liberal FDP party and the Greens, opposed to a euro zone budget or any debt-sharing.

Macron acknowledged some of those obstacles at a summit of EU leaders in Brussels last week, but said he remained committed to the budget goal, saying it would emerge eventually.

(Additional reporting by Richard Lough; editing by Peter Graff)

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