By Marianna Pliakostamou
“Facing the reality of the world will bring us renewed hope for the future.”
This is how the French President, Emmanuel Macron, began his book titled “Revolution”.
On April 24, 2022, Emmanuel Macron was elected President of the French Republic for a second five-year term. The French Constitution does not permit Macron to run for office within the following race, meaning that he has the opportunity to coordinate strategy and diplomacy as he truly desires. Naturally, this second tenure is not committed to his re-election, but rather to his historical legacy.
Firstly, Macron is the first president of France in 20 years who has been re-elected. This is essential because Macron’s one of a kind position marks an enduring change in French politics and a decisive rebuke of the back-and-forth between two entrenched incumbent parties. Secondly, the unusual weakness of leadership in Europe (Scholz) and across the West (Biden), in connection with the outbreak of war on the Old Continent, makes space for Macron’s proactive vision of European leadership. The question, however, is not what Macron wants or whether he has the political capital to achieve it. It is whether he has access to the resources needed to influence massive changes. In general, this offers Macron’s second tenure three classes of geopolitical opportunities: superiority over his historical rival, Germany, leadership within the European Union, and a renewed commitment to West Africa.
In a word, this is a pragmatic president.
However, encapsulating a welcome symbol of reason is not sufficient to administer a nation. Since coming to power, Macron has illustrated a similarly important aptitude: the recognition of facts for what they are, and not what he would like them to be. In this respect, he is more than a pragmatist, that is, he possesses “the sense of reality.” In spite of the fact that Macron may be a less experienced leader than his predecessor, thanks to his charm and energy, he has established himself as a character in the hearts of French voters. Making a small historical review, we see that leaders such as Churchill, Gandhi or Mao, are known primarily for their innate ability to motivate their supporters. Obviously, their political or strategic skills are of indispensable importance, but they went down in history primarily for the influence and inspiration they exerted on the people in times of crisis.
Charismatic leaders have the ability to understand and build on the needs, values, and hopes of their followers. They capture and define dreams and objectives that persuade their supporters towards collective activity instead of self-interest. Thus, charismatic leaders usually use their power for the good of the collective rather than for their personal aspirations. The “gift” that a leader has allows them to perform at 100% of their abilities, to be a trusted person, from whom the people are inspired and move forward in practice, to unite the people at a time when minds are divided.
Looking back, de Gaulle was brought back from political exile in 1958 at a time of crisis, both to save France from the political rifts over Algeria that were tearing the country apart, and to replace the weak and legislation-dominated chaotic failure, namely the Fourth Republic. Instead, de Gaulle – understanding his people’s historical affinity for a strong, centralized executive gave France what it wanted; a centralized state, with an “elective monarchy” at its head. It is no coincidence that the current French President, Emmanuel Macron, has a photo of de Gaulle in his private office. Aware that the French desire a strong leader, reassuring his people that France, one way or another, remains a respected great world power, Macron tried to portray this role. But in doing so, he is only delving into the old, best-selling Gaullist playbook, connecting with France’s long-standing political culture. Macron – channeling his inner de Gaulle – stole an election march from all his rivals, presenting himself as a global statesman hovering high over a field of parochial, angry and mediocre contenders. While at first glance Macron’s futile efforts at shuttle diplomacy on behalf of Europe as a whole failed to stop the Ukrainian crisis turning into an all-out war, it did not hurt him electorally. On the contrary, the French people seem to have thought it is better for them to try and fail, rather than just diplomatically retreat into the woods.
While symbolism, more than actual substance, is at stake here, ghosts remain powerful beings. One of the strangest side effects of the Ukrainian crisis has been Macron’s rise to seize the Gaullist mantle. By doing so, and by connecting with the French political culture that the general knew so well, Macron did nothing less than secure a second term as France’s elected monarch.