TIME: "Emmanuel Macron At Home in the World"
At home in the world
At 39, French President Emmanuel Macron is just getting started
by Vivienne Walt/Paris | photograph by Nadav Kander
In December, if they accept the invitation of the President of France, leaders of 100 countries will descend on Paris to ramp up the global fight against climate change. But in a striking omission, one major name is not on the list: U.S. President Donald Trump. When TIME sat down with President Emmanuel Macron in the Élysée Palace on Nov. 7, he said the U.S. leader would not be among the guests at his Dec. 12 summit, “except if you get this big announcement coming from himself that he has decided to join the club.”
The “club,” of course, comprises every other country on the planet, now that even Syria has pledged to join the Paris Agreement on climate change, which was negotiated in the French capital in 2015 to drastically rein in carbon emissions and stave off disastrous global warming. Since Trump alone has rejected the agreement and vowed to cancel the U.S.’s climate commitments, much of the responsibility for leading this club has fallen to an erudite young Frenchman who has only just begun his career as an elected politician. Climate change is the most global of all the world’s problems, but it is hardly the only one: there are nuclear threats, far-right nationalism, jihadi terrorism and technological disruption. For all those, too, the French President is eager to discuss what his country can offer. And although he says he’s not seeking to become the leader of the free world, he can sound like he is.“Today, de facto, we are part of the global leadership on climate change,” he says, speaking in his excellent English, a very rare thing for French leaders. “I want us to be part of the global leadership on the economy and on finance, on the digital environment. I think we have a very important leadership to play on multilateralism.”
Six months to the day since Macron swept to power in the most astonishing election in modern France, he welcomed TIME to his office to weigh what his presidency might mean, not only for the 63 million people in France or even for the European Union’s 508 million, but around the world. It is a question worth pondering when the current U.S. President has retreated into “America first” policies, and Europe’s usual de facto leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is struggling to build a coalition after a disappointing election. Britain, meanwhile, is in shambles, muddling through its painful exit from the E.U.
Edging into the vacuum is Macron, 39, a passionate globalist deeply read in history and philosophy, whose victory formed a counternarrative to the assumption that, in the shadow of Brexit and Trump, the E.U. would fall to right-wing nationalists. But in a Europe where millions of people were killed in 20th century wars waged by authoritarian strongmen, assuming the leadership of more than one country remains a freighted proposition. “The classical French answer would be to say yes,” he says, when TIME asks him about his ambitions to lead the Continent. “But I think it would be a mistake … I don’t want to be the leader of Europe. I want to be one of the leaders, and this new generation of leaders, totally convinced that our future is a European future.”
The very fact that such a role is even possible for Macron was thought exceedingly unlikely just 18 months ago, when he was the Economy Minister with not much more than ambition to his name. Shockingly young in a land of gray-haired political grandees, Macron nonetheless rose to the top in less than a year. He quit the government in August and formed his own movement, En Marche! (On the Move), to replace President François Hollande, who declined to run again as his popularity flatlined. Macron campaigned on an ambitious message no French citizen had heard in generations: forging an entirely new system for a modern France.
A former investment banker, Macron argued that the country’s economic system—including heavy state regulation and watertight protection for labor—needed a radical overhaul. Sprung from the mobile Internet generation, he felt free to reject the orthodoxies of left and right. “I decided to react, to say the current organization of the political world is no more relevant,” he says. Nonetheless, millions of people responded to him. Macron surged ahead of the traditional socialist and conservative parties in the first round of voting in April, going on to defeat the far-right, anti-E.U. Marine Le Pen in a second round. “He was the new kid in town, bright and charming,” says Edouard Lecerf, deputy director general for the French consulting firm BVA. “From the beginning, it was a fairy tale.”
One part of that fairy tale was Macron’s personal life, which has drawn much attention. As a teenager, he fell in love with Brigitte, the (then married) drama coach at his high school, who is 24 years his senior. They married in 2007, after she had divorced her husband, with Macron thanking the guests at their wedding reception for supporting their “not completely normal” love match. Brigitte Macron, now 64, has seven grandchildren, a head-snapping version of the modern blended family.
Asked why he thinks the world is so fascinated with his marriage, Macron shifts on the couch and draws his legs close as he ventures into a more personal subject. “It is my life. That is it,” he says, his voice softening. “And I think that when you decide to run for such a campaign, you owe your people the truth.” In his relationship, he was guided by a principle he had set for himself at a tender age: to follow his own counsel, no matter what others believed. “I decided on my own what I considered fair, good and even when the current convention was not consistent with my choice,” he says of his marriage. “And I did the same in politics, and I still do the same.” Today a few photos of Brigitte sit on his desk. Nearby is only one other: France’s wartime hero General Charles de Gaulle. At one point Macron’s dog Nemo wandered in, for a pat from his master.
Macron’s ability to tune out other people’s judgments might have been useful in recent months. In stark contrast with his American counterpart, Macron himself does not use Twitter—“It’s not compatible with the kind of distance you need to govern,” he says pointedly. But were he on the site, he could scarcely have missed the outraged hashtags as demonstrators stormed the streets to protest his sweeping rewrite of French labor laws. In several polls, people have judged him as coming off as arrogant and too cozy with the rich. After five months in office, just 48% of those polled by Harris Interactive said they were satisfied with their new President. Macron, who has already rushed through several laws on labor, terrorism and taxes, shrugs at his falling numbers. “I was very popular at the beginning of my mandate, because I didn’t do anything for the first week after my election,” he says. “If you act, and it is because of your actions that you lose popularity, fine.”
While some remain unconvinced, to judge by the leaders drawn to the Élysée to meet Macron, there is a sense of something dynamic happening in France. It’s evident from the celebrities who have visited (Bono and Rihanna each made the trip) and from the buzz produced by constant motion.
In just the few days before he met with TIME, Macron weathered a blizzard of telephone diplomacy from his desk. With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he discussed climate change and scheduled a presidential visit for early next year. Another call was with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom Macron had hosted in May in the sumptuous Versailles château. Back then, he stunned Putin by bluntly telling him in front of reporters that the state-funded Russian media had engaged in “false propaganda.” Russian meddling still poses a serious peril to democracies like the U.S. and France, he told TIME. “We should not underestimate the potential effects of such interference.”
Even so, Putin is now a man he can cut deals with. In his call with him on Nov. 3, he discussed opening humanitarian-aid corridors in Syria, an idea over which the Kremlin has long vacillated. The two also confirmed their commitment to the Iran nuclear deal, just days after Trump asked Congress to scrap U.S. support for it. And while TIME was at the Élysée, Macron’s aides were preparing for his departure the next morning to the United Arab Emirates, where he would meet leaders from the Gulf region and open an Abu Dhabi franchise of the Louvre Museum.
But it is Macron’s relationship with Trump that has proved the most complicated. At first glance, the two are a study in contrasts, in politics as well as style: the brash, antiglobalist septuagenarian set against the scholarly French globalist little more than half his age. And yet there are commonalities.
Both came out of the business world—Macron earned handsomely at a young age in four years at Rothschild—and both won shock victories as neophyte outsiders, trampling seasoned party politicians on the way. In the weeks leading up to the TIME interview, Macron’s top aides expressed concern that he might be portrayed as the anti-Trump—a characterization they find especially tricky. “We cannot do without the U.S.,” one of his close aides told me candidly, while another said that for Macron to try to convince Trump to change his mind on issues, “he needs a relationship of trust.” Macron says he himself does not believe he is the anti-Trump. “It doesn’t make sense. We are both duly elected by our voters,” he says. “I am not here to judge, to say I am the opponent to anybody.”
Even so, Macron barely conceals his annoyance at Trump’s decisions to pull the U.S. out of the climate agreement and to halt U.S. support for the Iran nuclear deal, which major world powers negotiated in 2015, to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Macron says Trump appears to have no alternative suggestions to replace those pacts. “You cannot renegotiate with more than 180 or 190 countries,” he says about Trump’s withdrawal from the climate deal, and then speaks as though he is addressing Trump: “You disagree with that, but what’s your plan B? I don’t know your plan B.” He and Trump spoke by phone about Iran in October, with Macron arguing for Trump to keep supporting U.S. involvement in the deal or else see Iran sprint for a nuclear weapon. “I just said, ‘What is your other option? What do you want to propose?’ If you want to stop any relation with Iran regarding nuclear activity, you will create a new North Korea,” he says. “What’s your other option? To launch war, to attack Iran? It would be crazy.”
Neither Trump nor Macron got the partner they wanted in their respective elections. In the final days before the French election, former U.S. President Barack Obama uploaded a video endorsement for Macron, to his campaign’s delight. Trump, meanwhile, praised the tough anti-immigrant stance of Macron’s rival, National Front leader Le Pen. After that, their first meeting, in Brussels in May, was guaranteed to be tense. Macron gripped Trump’s palm in a prolonged handshake that went viral across the world.
Moments after Trump announced in June that he was withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, Macron gave a televised address in English, inviting U.S. climate scientists to move to France, where their work would be supported. He ended with a dig at Trump’s slogan, saying, “Make our planet great again.”
Yet Macron insists that he and Trump have a “strong relationship” on security, counterterrorism and defense. For months French jets have bombed ISIS positions as part of the U.S.-led military coalition. France’s military is in areas like Niger and Mali, where ISIS and al-Qaeda have taken hold. This is in keeping with the historic ties between the U.S. and France, Macron notes. “It’s much stronger and more important than the current Presidents, on both sides.”
The first signs of trust-building between the leaders came on July 14, Bastille Day, France’s biggest national holiday. Trump was Macron’s guest of honor, and the U.S. President was lavished with the best of Paris, a city Trump had said during his election campaign that “my friend Jim” would no longer visit. The visit included a full-scale military parade down the Champs-Élysées and dinner with the two Presidents’ wives atop the Eiffel Tower. At a joint press conference, Macron called Trump “dear Donald,” while Trump called the French leader “a great President.” And if, so far, Macron appears to have had little luck in convincing Trump to change his mind on key issues, he believes in keeping the door open to the possibility of welcoming back “the one who decided to leave the club,” he says. “I do believe that we have a very good personal relationship.”
And yet the battle of ideas between the two has only just begun. That was evident two months after Trump’s glittering visit to Paris. In mid-September both he and Macron made their debut appearances at the U.N. General Assembly. Trump told world leaders he would “always put America first” and that he wanted to see a “future where nations can be sovereign,” a sharp break from the U.N.’s mantra of global cooperation. Just two hours later Macron gave an impassioned defense of the multilateralism at the body’s core, arguing against every point Trump had made. He tells TIME he wanted to place France, as one of the U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members, in a leading role in the organization. “This country’s history is directly linked with multilateralism and the checks and balances of our global organization.”
Days later Macron delivered a much longer speech in Paris, giving a detailed blueprint for overhauling the entire E.U. in a live televised address. Macron’s aides insist that he did not intend to step into the role as Europe’s leader. Yet the timing led some to draw that conclusion: that same day, Merkel was locked in coalition talks in Berlin, after failing to win an outright majority in elections held just days before. Macron appeared to be striding into the breach.
The speech was classic Macron. Appealing to a grand narrative, he cut through the anxiety and shock over Brexit and the wave of anti-E.U. populist sentiment. He told Europeans, raised in comfortable democracies, that they were forgetting the horrors of the last century, when two world wars devastated the Continent and led to the formation of the E.U. Then he listed bold proposals for dramatically closer ties between the 27 E.U. countries after Britain leaves in 2019: a joint military force, an E.U. intelligence service, a Europe-wide asylum process for refugees and an E.U. financial transaction tax. “If you don’t put on the table a new ambition, you leave the floor to those who doubt Europe,” he says of his lofty proposals. “That’s how I defeated Marine Le Pen. And that’s why my strong recommendation to the others in Europe is to say, Don’t be shy. If you are shy about Europe, you will be killed by the extremes.”
To Macron, the project to unite Europe is proof that something positive can emerge from the darkest nationalist turmoil. “The whole story of Europe is about a series of wars, trying to dominate the others,” he says. Since the European Union, there has been “freedom and peace, allowing prosperity,” he says. To Macron, that notion seems deeply personal. Born into a generation that has always known a borderless E.U., his relative youth gives him a particular perspective. “Our generation will not have the luxury just to manage Europe,” he says. “We will have to refound it.”
For Macron to have a chance of remaking Europe—or, for that matter, to emerge as a new world leader—he will need to fix his own country. As he has begun to find his voice on global issues, so has he started an overhaul of France itself. Both, he says, are crucial, and closely interconnected. “France has a voice and a role to play,” he says. “But this role cannot be played, and your voice is not even listened to, if you don’t perform at home.”
So far, Macron’s plan to transform France has looked deceptively simple as he signs executive orders and as France’s economy experiences a noticeable uptick after years of near-stagnation—partly a factor of businesses’ optimism over Macron and of the world’s general economic rise. Even so, popular dissent has simmered over Macron’s first six months as he brings in what he calls a “profound transformation” in the “mind-set” of the French. In September tens of thousands of outraged Parisians marched against the centerpiece of Macron’s program: overhauling the watertight labor rights that have been in place for decades and which companies call a huge disincentive to hiring. “He is totally reversing social protections,” a far-left member of Parliament, Bastien Lachaud, said, standing amid the crowds. “He has to listen to protesters.”
But does he? Macron has no immediate need to compromise. His new political party, named La République En Marche!, won a large majority in parliamentary elections in June, ensuring that his executive orders find easy passage into law. The protests have had no discernible effect on Macron; one day after the Paris march, he signed the most far-reaching changes to French labor laws in decades, including one allowing companies to negotiate directly with employees rather than through labor unions, and drastically scaled back the country’s unwieldy labor code. “Everything will be in place by the end of the year,” he announced as he signed the new measures. Then he snapped the folder shut, as if to say, Case closed. Nobody should have been surprised by the speed of his actions, he now says. “I organized my campaign around these ideas. I didn’t take the country by surprise,” he says. “I delivered exactly the plan. That’s it.”
But not everyone in France cast their vote for Macron out of love for his platform. Many did so out of fear and disgust at Le Pen, whose nationalist platform included favoring France’s withdrawal from E.U., ditching the euro and virtually halting immigration. Even so, she won an impressive 10.6 million votes. And the far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon captured more than 7 million votes in the knockout round by campaigning for a 32-hour workweek and public retirement at 60. While Macron’s power at the moment appears unimpeachable, the map shows alienation across the struggling industrial areas of France’s northern rust belt, where towns have seen factories shuttered and jobs move to low-cost countries in Eastern Europe. Strong support exists there for the far right—a mirror image, perhaps, of Trump’s “forgotten” Americans. That is a sobering thought as the French President attempts to create millions of jobs. Yet Macron is optimistic, saying that with his changes, France could hugely benefit from the economic disruption. “We have everything to succeed in this new environment if we deliver in changing some of our rules,” he says. “Part of the political elites, unions, part of the economy were dead against this change. But people were waiting for that.”
It could take years before the world knows the full scope of Emmanuel Macron. If his ideas are proved wrong and his free-market style fails to bring France the economic revival he promises, the angry populism that stirred France earlier this year, and which led to Brexit, could return in force.
But if Macron is proved right, France could emerge as a far more important global power than it has been in decades. If he wins re-election in 2022, after his first five-year term as President, he would leave the Élysée Palace in 2027 at a sprightly 49 years of age—with plenty of time to form a radically different post-presidential role for himself. That is a long way in a future that remains shrouded in the mists. But if Macron pulls off his transformation at home, the ambitions he has to change the world—not just France—could be within reach. That club, after all, has an opening for a leader.
Emmanuel Macron on His Marriage, Trump’s Twitter Habits and the Future of Europe (ITW)
by Vivienne Walt and Edward Felsenthal
In his first interview with American journalists inside the presidential Elysée Palace, President Emmanuel Macron sat down with TIME on November 7 for a wide-ranging interview.
On the six-month anniversary of his stunning election win last May, Macron spoke to TIME Editor Edward Felsenthal and Paris correspondent Vivienne Walt about President Trump, terrorism, Europe’s identity crisis, the need to transform France and his unconventional marriage.
Relaxed and cordial, and sipping on an espresso and speaking in English, Macron was eager to outline his ideas for the world in detail. Even his dog Nemo wandered in and sat obediently, while Macron joked that the Labrador retriever-Griffon hound, rescued from a shelter, surely had no idea how lucky he was to be living in the ornate 300-year-old seat of power.
By contrast, Macron knows he is in a prime spot.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
TIME – We wanted to ask you first about this morning’s news about your climate summit in December. You’ve invited a hundred world leaders to Paris. But not President Trump. Does this mean that your plan to convince him to rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change is not going that well?
President Macron – I made it very clear from the very beginning that there is no renegotiation of the Paris Agreement. Because he cannot renegotiate with more than one hundred eighty or 190 countries. And it’s very important to deliver the message and to show the strong evidence of the fact that Paris Agreement is still active. And that everybody will deliver following the initial commitment.
When you look at the current trends, we will not meet the assumptions made for this agreement. And we are definitely making the reforms too slowly. That’s why we decided in France to accelerate a few weeks ago, with a new climate plan. All the coal plants will be closed. We will close what we call thermic activity. And we will stop exploiting new hydrocarbons and oil and gas activities in France and overseas, especially Guyana and so on. Nobody has a comparable commitment. For me, one of the main achievements of the December summit is to show, look, here we are. Even if one of the big players decided not to follow up at this stage, we can be here.
TIME – You mentioned when you were in New York for the U.N. General Assembly that one approach to bring President Trump back into the climate fold might be, as you put it, to find a solution where he can be the leader of something new on it. Do you still see that as possible?
President Macron – If he wants to take a new initiative to go further I would be very happy. But I just say what is unacceptable is to deliver speeches without any deeds and any reality. When you are committed, for instance, to reduce CO2 emissions, you have to implement a consistent policy in your country. That’s what we are doing.
TIME – It’s not only climate that divides you and President Trump however, of course. Before this interview your staff said to me that you did not want to be seen as the anti-Trump.
President Macron – I confirm that, because both of us are duly elected by our voters. So I do respect the United States. I do respect U.S. voters. And I’m not here to judge or to say, I’m the opponent to anybody. I mean it doesn’t make sense. Second we have a big and a long history together. And each time the U.S. needs a partner for freedom, even its creation and its existence, they found France. Each time France needed a partner, an ally, to be free, to fight against terror or fight against invasions, we found the U.S. So we have this historic link.
And it’s much stronger and much more important than the current presidents on both sides. Having said that, I have a very strong relationship with not just the U.S. but President Trump on security, counterterrorism, and a lot of topics. And I do believe that we have a very good personal relationship. He came here for the 14th of July and we had very good discussions. And we have some disagreements. I think that’s a mistake not to follow up on this agreement. There is no planet B, as I always repeat. So I would say to him, fine, you disagree with that. But what’s your plan B? I don’t know your plan B. I think that’s a big mistake for a new generation and the upcoming generations.
TIME – You also disagree on the Iran nuclear agreement, which Trump wants to renegotiate.
President Macron – The deal negotiated in 2015 is a pretty good one. When I ask my experts, could we have more than that or a better situation, they say no. They say no.
I am not naïve. I’m not saying that everything is perfectly fine with Iran. But I just look at the map and the current situation. In Middle East and Asia we have a lot of imbalances, a lot of uncertainties. We have terrorist groups, we have a crisis situation in Syria, a very difficult situation in Iraq as well. And Iran is part of this map. And I do believe that the [nuclear] deal, the JCPOA, [negotiated by the E.U., U.S., and the U.N.] concluded in July 2015 is the best possible deal regarding Iran.
And once again, I just said, ‘What’s your other option? What do you propose? If you want to stop any relation with Iran regarding nuclear activity, you will create a new North Korea.’ Because it’s exactly what we experienced with North Korea. And suddenly you will wake up in ten to twelve years time without any control, but having the nuclear weapon. I don’t want to have that. If you stop the 2015 agreement, what’s your other option? To launch war? To attack Iran? I think it would be crazy in the region.
TIME – Are there alternatives?
President Macron – We need two additional points. And I would be very happy to have President Trump taking the initiatives on precisely these new items.
We need to better frame ballistic activities of Iran. When you look at the situation in Saudi Arabia and the bomb intercepted coming from Yemen, that’s part of this ballistic activity of Iran in the region, which is not covered by the deal. So we should negotiate a new series of criteria and a new treaty with Iran to stop their ballistic activities in the region.
And the second point is the containment of the Iranian presence in the whole region. When you look at their role in Iraq, in Syria, in Lebanon, in Yemen, they destabilize a lot of people and the whole region. We have to speak with them very openly about this presence.
TIME – I’m sure you’ve been following the investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election. I’m interested in what you make of that investigation so far, and also what France is doing to address similar interference here?
President Macron – I think it’s a very serious problem. And we should not underestimate the potential effects of such interference. Both the U.S. and France are open democracies with very strong civil society and a lot of debates with free media. And we are happy with that. And with a lot of digital activities. And you have some other countries, and some of them are our partners, and some of them are very important leaders. And Russia is one of them. I respect them and we have very important discussions with them. But they don’t share exactly the same values and the same rules of the game, I would say. And when they develop propaganda in other countries, when they develop potential activities in those other countries it is very serious. Because it could create a bias in our presidential or in our campaigns, whatever the election could be. I had a very direct discussion with President Putin about such a situation. I expressed myself very clearly about that.
TIME – President Trump speaks a lot about fake news on his Twitter account. Do you follow him?
President Macron – I have to confess something which could perhaps appear very sane from your point of view. I don’t tweet myself. And I don’t follow myself. Because it’s not compatible with the kind of distance you need to govern and to preside. To be president, you need some distance from events, from the permanent flows of news and reactions. I have to confess I’ve heard of some news about Mr. Trump’s Twitter account, but I don’t follow and I don’t tweet myself.
TIME – You don’t get on Twitter every day to see what he’s tweeting?
President Macron – Not every day. No. When you look at Twitter, when you look at reactions of people, you get something from the reality and from the perception of your people and people all around the place. But I think that when you are in the situation to decide on your own and when you have the responsibility of lot of big policies and a lot of people, you cannot react permanently on this kind of media or on any media. You need time, you need distance, you need to cross-check information, to think about what you should react to or not.
And that’s why Twitter is not always totally adapted to this kind of job. It’s fine for your private life, but the problem is you don’t have any more private life when you’re President.
TIME – One issue that you and President Trump are both dealing with is terrorism. How do you explain French citizens fighting with jihadist groups in Syria and Iraq?
President Macron – We had a few years ago indeed hundreds of French people leaving the country to join these places. Why? Because there was something wrong in the society. And it’s still the case because I think Western societies are experiencing a big crisis, a crisis in democracies, with the inability of a lot of countries to integrate all the people, with the fact that we left the floor to some jihadists manipulating them. And playing with the vast frustrations and importing tensions of the Middle East in our societies.
It is a mix of a big crisis in the Muslim world, a creation of new tensions in the Muslim world, with the radicalization of people who believe the elimination of non-Muslims and non-fundamental Muslims is de facto the purpose of their life, and the fact that there is a lack of dream, a lack of mobility, a lack of new projects in our Western societies.
Today, we don’t have so many people trying to leave the country to join them in Syria and Iraq. Why? Because they are losing the war there … and all these people coming back, from Syria especially, are put in jail.
But you have some people becoming terrorists in your country [the U.S.] even without having had any direct contact with them, but just because suddenly something happens in their minds. Which is once again a mix of definitely a terrorist-slash-religious phenomenon. I don’t want to reduce that to religion. But I don’t want to exclude the fact that there is a link with religion. And with social and economic difficulties, and sometimes with mental diseases and illness.
TIME – This seems like a good moment to ask you about Europe, which I know is something very passionate for you. You overcame a populist nationalist movement to win the presidency. Plus, your close partner in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is in a pretty weakened state electorally. So does this make you the preeminent leader of Europe?
President Macron – The classical French answer should be yes. Because a classical French model is to become a leader, from Napoleon to de Gaulle and others. But I think it would be a mistake. The strength of our Europe today is to preserve decades of unity, freedom, peace, without hegemony. And that’s brand new. Until the Second World War ,the history for centuries of Europe was a series of wars, and atoms of hegemony. The whole story of Europe is about a series of wars, trying to dominate the others. What we managed to build right after the Second World War is unique.
The space of freedom and peace allowing prosperity, having 70 years of peace, is brand new. It never existed in Europe. I’m very attached to this. So I don’t want to be the leader of Europe. I want to be one of the leaders in this new generation of leaders, totally convinced that our future is a European future.
As for Chancellor Merkel, she won the election with 33% after 12 years in office. She’s a great leader. She’s strong. And she defeated the extreme right. She will be part of this redefinition of Europe.
TIME – Can you explain your faith in this “European future?”?
President Macron – This balance between freedom and social justice, liberty and equality, is unique in Europe. In the U.S., you have a strong attachment to freedom, but with less attachment to equality than in Europe. You have a very strong attachment to the market economy in China, but not the same relationship with freedom. This mix of capital market, progress, equality and liberty is the DNA of Europe. And that’s why I think we need Europe if we don’t want to submit ourselves to the rule of the others.
And when you look at the map if you want to have the ability to design the role of this new century and this new world, we have to team up and work closely together. If I want to tax CO2 when products and goods enter to our geographies, or if I want to be efficient in terms of renewables, I have to work and act at the European level, not just at the national. If I want to be efficient on migration, I need a European organization, because that’s a global phenomenon. If you want to act efficiently against terrorism, you have to build your intelligence at the European level.
So everything at stake is not to be dealt with at the national level. You need European action. The rationale of my commitment for Europe is a reaction to what you mentioned: The increase of extremists and nationalistic movements in different countries in Europe.
TIME – Your office said during the campaign that without significant structural change, you could have France and Greece leaving the EU. Can that happen fast enough, that change?
President Macron – I think so, I hope so. I mean first of all, my point was to say, if you don’t move forward, if you don’t put on the table a new ambition, you leave the floor to those who doubt about Europe. Which is a history of the past decade. Nobody dared propose new things about Europe. I mean we had a tired elite. It was a mix between tired and cynical people. If we have ambition you can attract people. That’s why I decided at the Sorbonne a few weeks ago to propose this new roadmap: sovereignty, unity, and democracy. With a dozen very concrete proposals on the table.
You have to resume the deep philosophy of Europe. That is how I defeated Marine Le Pen. And that is why my strong recommendation in Europe to all the others is to say, don’t be shy. If you are shy about Europe you will be killed by the extremes. Because they are not shy about their anti-European feeling.
You have to explain to your young people, Europe is about growth and investment, it would be about how to teach you, how to help you to travel, to know much better the other young people in this continent to learn other languages, to learn other cultures, to be more equipped to deal with this new world.
So I think it depends on ourselves. The worst would be just to consider that Europe as a club where you fix short term crises. That is no more the case. Our generation will not have the luxury just to manage Europe. We will have to refound it.
TIME – I see you have two photographs on your desk: De Gaulle and your wife Brigitte. The entire world it seems is completely intrigued by your marriage, in particular the 24-year age gap. You have been asked to address it repeatedly. Why do you think that is?
President Macron – It’s my life. That’s it. And I think that when you decide to run for such a campaign, you owe your people the truth. So I very bluntly and I would say naturally explained why. And my situation and the presence of my wife and my personal balance, I would say. So it’s for me just something natural. That’s it. That’s my life for decades. And I think that in the current environment you have to explain to people that this is my life, my personal life, my intimate life. Not to expose my intimacy, because I never speak and never comment about my intimacy, but just to say here it is.
And my wife is very important as she is not just my wife but my best friend. And somebody very important to me. And she’s here and she has always been here. And that’s it. Not to have an official role, because in France we have very different tradition from the U.S. But she has a presence, people are very attached to her and her presence. But she’s not in charge of public policy, she is not elected by people. But she has a symbolic role I would say as being my wife. And she’s very much important because of our relation. That is it.
TIME – Do you have a political credo?
President Macron – I always act with convictions. I would say I decided very early de facto two things: Never accepting something I don’t understand. Never accepting I would stay in a situation where you’re uncomfortable with. So that’s why when I started to be involved in politics and I experienced strange situations with incomprehensible rules, I decided to react and to launch my own movement and to say, the current organization of the political world in France is not relevant any more. It was very naïve, but it was following this very first principle.
My second principle of action was not to act for people’s judgement. And not to consider that you act to be loved by people or because of what they have in mind or what is good or wrong for them. It was my guidance for my personal life — I decided on my own what I considered was fair, good. Even when the current convention was not consistent with my choice. And I did the same in politics and I still do the same. I listen to people very carefully, I take a lot of consultation. I follow and respect the judgements of people, and especially some people I respect. But at the end of the day when I take a decision, when I act, it’s not to be pleasant, I would say.
And I think if you follow these two principles and these two guidances, you can act.
TIME – Your approval rate has plunged since you came into office. Does that sting?
President Macron – I was very popular at the beginning of my mandate because I didn’t do anything for the very first week after my election. The worst thing is to lose popularity without acting or without being efficient. But if you act and if it’s because of your actions that you lose popularity, fine.
There is a lack of trust in politics. Some think that even if I take strong and difficult decisions, that they will not provide any effects. You need time to get these effects. That’s why I decided to frontload a lot of tough decisions. I presented them and explained them very clearly and loudly during the campaign. I organized my campaign around these ideas. I didn’t take the country by surprise. No, I delivered exactly the plan. So that’s it.
TIME – Can France assume the leadership role you’ve outlined in Europe and around the world if it doesn’t overhaul its economy and labor laws the way you’ve set out to?
President Macron – I think everything is interrelated. I believe that France has a voice and a role to play in the current environment, both in Europe but in multilateralism and in the global situation. But this role cannot be played, and your voice is not even respected and listened if you don’t perform at home.
We have to strengthen our economy, we have to change in depth the DNA of our economy to be leader in this new economy of innovation, talent, and competence and disruption. And I think we have everything to succeed in this new economy. Entrepreneur is a French word. Innovation is part of our DNA. So we have everything to succeed in this new environment if we deliver in changing some of our rules and something about the mindset of our society.