Macron takes power, vows to heal divisions

Source:Reuters Published: 2017/5/14 23:18:40

39-yr-old centrist stands outside traditional political groups

French President Emmanuel Macron (center) stands in a car at a parade along Champs Elysees avenue after his formal inauguration ceremony as French president on Sunday in Paris. Photo: AFP

Emmanuel Macron took power as president of France on Sunday in a solemn ceremony heavy with tradition at the Elysee Palace and he pledged to work to heal divisions in society - a nod to the bitter campaign he fought to defeat a far-right leader.

His inauguration marked a first for the world's fifth largest economy and founding member of the EU, installing a 39-year-old centrist newcomer unknown to the wider public three years ago and who stands outside any traditional political grouping.

The former investment banker becomes the youngest post-war French leader and the first to be born after 1958 when President Charles de Gaulle put in place the country's Fifth Republic.

In his first word in office, he addressed himself to the fraught and fiercely contested election campaign in which he overcame the National Front's Marine Le Pen but which was a disappointment for almost half of France's 47 million voters.

Many people feel dispossessed by globalization as manufacturing jobs move abroad and as immigration and a fast-changing world blur their sense of a French identity.

"The division and fractures in our society must be overcome. I know that the French expect much from me. Nothing will make me stop defending the higher interests of France and for working to reconcile the French," Macron declared.

A convinced European integrationist unlike Le Pen and other candidates, Macron went on: "The world and Europe need more than ever France, and a strong France, which speaks out loudly for freedom and solidarity."

Macron took power formally after an hour-long private meeting with outgoing President Francois Hollande in which official access to France's nuclear missile launch codes was handed over.

Macron then accompanied his political patron down the red carpet to a waiting car in which the Socialist leader departed to applause from VIP guests and his former household staff.

In a ceremony conducted with all the pomp and glitter of high state occasions in France, Macron was presented with what is effectively his chain of office - a heavy golden necklace mounted on a red cushion that makes him Grand Master of the National Order of the Legion d'Honneur - an honors system for servants of the Republic.

But he also appeared determined to create an impression of personal modesty at the start of his rule.

Aides went out of their way to emphasize that the dark suit he wore to stride up the red carpet to power cost about 450 euros or just under $500. The Vuitton lavender blue costume worn by his wife Brigitte, who was at his side, was on loan from the fashion house, journalists were told. But he also displayed youthful vigor during the televised proceedings - at one point racing up the stairs to meet a protocol requirement, something not all previous French presidents might have managed.

The arrival in power of Macron, which was marked by a 21-gun salute at the Esplanade des Invalides behind the Eiffel Tower, signaled at least a pause in the anti-globalization trend that brought Donald Trump the US presidency and led British voters to pick a future outside the EU.

Departing from past tradition, he chose to be driven by military jeep rather than civilian limousine up to the Arc de Triomphe in driving rain to light the flame in tribute to France's war dead at the tomb to the unknown soldier - a potent reminder of France's role in the NATO defense alliance.

Macron also showed determination in the fight against terrorism since the Arc is not far from where a policeman was shot dead by a gunman acting for Islamic State shortly before the May 7 second round of the election.


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