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France’s new president vows to fortify EU, revamp politics

May 14, 2017

PARIS (AP) — In ceremonies marked by youthful optimism and old-world Napoleonic pomp, Emmanuel Macron swept into office Sunday as France’s new president pledging to fortify the European Union, redesign French politics and glue together his divided nation.

Macron’s presidency began with a visit to troops wounded in overseas combat — a reminder of France’s large global military presence and role in fighting extremists from Syria to Africa. He’s expected to name a prime minister imminently, and to show his commitment to reviving European unity. Macron takes his first presidential trip Monday to Berlin to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In a lofty but lucid inaugural speech, Macron vowed to lift France out of its sense of decline and lost purpose, and seize again its place in the world. “The time has come for France to rise up to the occasion. The division and fractures across our society must be overcome … because the world expects us to be strong, solid, clairvoyant.”

He promised to take France’s responsibilities to tackle today’s crises — “the migration crisis, the climate challenge, authoritarian abuse, the excesses of capitalism in the world and of course terrorism. Nothing now strikes one and spares the other. We are all Interdependent. We are all neighbors.”

The 39-year-old Macron is the youngest president in the country’s history and the eighth president of France’s Fifth Republic, which was created in 1958. A former economy minister with pro-business, pro-European views, Macron is the first French president who doesn’t originate from the country’s two mainstream parties.

After Macron was formally declared president at the Elysee Palace, 21 cannon shots were fired from across the Seine River at the Invalides monument, where Napoleon is entombed. Macron later solemnly paid tribute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier beneath the Arc de Triomphe, greeting veterans and military officers in formation beneath the imposing arch.

Macron takes charge of a nation that, when Britain leaves the European Union in 2019, will become the EU’s only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. Reviving support for European unity will be among his top priorities. France is a founding member of the 28-nation EU and its third-largest economy after Germany and Britain.

“We will need a more efficient Europe, a more democratic Europe, a more political Europe because it’s the instrument of our power and our sovereignty, I will work on that,” he said Sunday. Before the ceremony, he met for an hour with his predecessor, Francois Hollande, taking a last few minutes to discuss the most sensitive issues facing France, including the country’s nuclear codes.

In a visibly moving moment for both, Macron accompanied Hollande to his car, shaking hands and applauding him along with the employees of the French presidency who had gathered in the palace’s courtyard.

The two men had known each other well. Macron was Hollande’s former adviser, then his economy minister from 2014 to 2016, when Macron quit the Socialist government to launch his own independent presidential bid.

About 300 guests, officials and family members gathered in the Elysee reception hall, including Macron’s wife, Brigitte, wearing a lavender blue dress by French designer Nicolas Ghesquiere for Louis Vuitton.

Macron himself wore a dark suit from French brand Jonas and Cie, a tailor based in Paris. It cost 450 euros ($491), according to his team. The new president arrived on the Champs-Elysees Avenue under a heavy rain — recalling Hollande’s inauguration five years ago. But unlike his predecessor, Macron managed to avoid getting wet. The bad weather often associated with the former Socialist president has become a joke for the French.

After his time at the tomb, Macron went to shake hands with supporters along the Champs-Elysees, who were taking selfies and waving French tricolor flags, before coming back to the palace for a lunch with his family.

Earlier, he and France’s new first lady briefly posed for photographers at the front porch of the palace after Hollande left. The couple will now live at the Elysee Palace. Macron met with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo later Sunday and visited the Percy military hospital in the Paris suburb of Clamart to meet with two soldiers injured during French operations in Mali last year and one wounded in Afghanistan in 2010. The media wasn’t allowed to cover the visit.

Macron has promised to reinvigorate French politics by bringing in new faces, and will form a government in the coming days. His Republic on the Move movement — barely a year old — is hoping to elect a majority of lawmakers in next month’s parliamentary elections so that he can pass his programs. It has announced an initial list of 428 candidates for the 577 seats up for grabs in France’s lower house of parliament in the vote on June 11 and 18.

Many of the candidates are newcomers in politics. Their average age is 46, compared to 60 for the outgoing assembly. Half of them are women. Only 24 are lawmakers running for re-election. Hollande, meanwhile, went on Twitter to describe the “terrible ordeals” that marked his five-year term, from deadly attacks to Greece’s debt crisis. He defended his unpopular presidency in a series of tweets minutes after leaving the Elysee Palace.

Hollande noted his accomplishments in getting the Paris Agreement on climate change, legalizing gay marriage and doing “everything possible to ensure that Greece stays in Europe.” “We lived through crises but we held together. France remained France,” he tweeted.

Angela Charlton contributed from Paris.

Inauguration day: Macron to become France’s new president

May 14, 2017

PARIS (AP) — France’s Emmanuel Macron arrived Sunday for his inauguration ceremony at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris, ready to fully embark on his mission to shake up the world of French politics.

His predecessor, Francois Hollande, welcomed him in the courtyard, shaking hands in front of hundreds of journalists. The two were meeting in the president’s office before Hollande’s departure, taking a last few minutes to discuss the most sensitive issues facing France, including the country’s nuclear codes.

Macron takes charge of a nation that, when Britain leaves the European Union in 2019, will become the EU’s only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. He will then make a speech in the Elysee reception hall in front of about 300 guests, officials and family members, including his wife Brigitte Macron, who was wearing a lavender blue dress by French designer Nicolas Ghesquiere for Louis Vuitton.

Macron was wearing a dark suit from French brand Jonas and Cie, a tailor based in Paris, that cost 450 euros ($491), his team said. Outside the Elysee, few dozen supporters waved French tricolor and European blue flags at the arrival of the new president.

Following the ceremony and military honors at the Elysee palace, Macron will go the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, at the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Elysees Avenue, a tradition followed by all heads of states in France’s modern history.

Macron will also meet with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo later Sunday. His first visit abroad will be to Germany on Monday, to visit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. He will have to name his prime minister and form a government in the following days.

A former economy minister with pro-business, pro-European views, Macron quit Hollande’s Socialist government last year to launch his independent bid. He is the first French president who doesn’t originate from one of the country’s mainstream parties.

He has promised to reinvigorate French politics by bringing in new faces. His Republic on the Move movement has announced an initial list of 428 candidates for the 577 seats up for grabs in France’s lower house of parliament in June. Macron is seeking a majority of lawmakers so he can pass his programs.

Many of the Republic on the Move candidates are newcomers in politics. Their average age is 46, compared to 60 for the outgoing assembly. Half of them are women. Only 24 are lawmakers running for re-election, all Socialists.

After the new president, new faces for France’s parliament

May 11, 2017

PARIS (AP) — One led the elite French police unit that took down an Islamic State cell, another lost a sister in the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris. There is also a computer whiz who started working at age 16, a farmer and a primary school director whose family is known for its sparkling wine.

Their shared goal: to deliver French President-elect Emmanuel Macron the parliamentary majority he needs to be effective. Macron’s Republic on the Move party on Thursday unveiled its eclectic, still partial, slate of 428 candidates for France’s legislative elections in June. More than half — 52 percent — are citizens who, like Macron, have never held elected office.

They range in age from 24 to 72. The slate also adheres to an often-ignored parity law of 50 percent women and 50 percent men. A final batch of candidates is expected to be announced next week. The party plans to contest most — but not all — of the 577 seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of France’s parliament.

“Our candidates signal the permanent return of the citizen to the heart of our political life,” the secretary-general of Macron’s party, Richard Ferrand, said, underscoring the “boldness” of the venture for a movement created but 13 months ago.

Some districts will not be contested by a Macron candidate, including that of former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Macron’s party rejected Valls as a candidate, but does not plan to put up its own to oppose him, the secretary-general of Macron’s party, Ferrand said at a news conference announcing the initial campaign lineup.

Valls has held three parliamentary terms and is not a member of Macron’s party, making him ineligible under the strict terms set out for candidates. “We won’t change our criteria, no special treatment …,” Ferrand said, “but we note the singularity of this prime minister in office in recent years and we don’t seek quarrels with this one or that one.”

The rejection could prove troublesome for Valls, who risks expulsion from his Socialist Party for backing Macron’s candidacy. Jean Launay, who was involved in Republic on the Move’s selection process, said at least a dozen or so others who weren’t selected won’t face an opponent from Macron’s party.

The novice candidates who made the cut hope to repopulate the political map of France with new faces and new ideas. An initial batch of 14 legislative candidates previously announced in April by Macron’s camp offers a taste of how Macron’s grassroots, startup-style movement sought to recruit outside the circle of career politicians.

Among them, Jean-Michel Fauvergue. He commanded the elite RAID unit during the 2015 siege in which Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a ring leader of the Paris attacks a few days earlier, was killed. There is also Claire Tassadit Houd. Her sister, Djamila, was among the 130 killed in the Nov. 13, 2015, Paris attacks, according to the party.

More than 19,000 would-be legislators answered Macron’s call for candidates. The party asked them to sign up on its website with a resume and letter explaining their motivation to join the National Assembly.

“I signed up right from the beginning on the website,” Jean-Baptiste Moreau, one of the initial 14, told The Associated Press on Thursday. The 40-year-old is contesting a seat in the Creuse region of central France where he farms.

Moreau said he was drawn by the profile of 39-year-old Macron, who will be France’s youngest president when he takes power Sunday, and by the party’s efforts to make grassroots ideas part of his campaign platform. Moreau is new to elected politics.

“If I’m elected, I don’t want to become a political professional. I’ll serve one or two terms,” he said. Mireille Robert, the head of a primary school in a village of 1,000 people in the Aude region of southwestern France, will be up against a local Socialist Party heavyweight.

In a phone interview during the school lunch break Thursday, Robert likened herself to women who were on the front lines during the French revolution in 1789. She said one of her main motives for getting into politics under Macron’s banner is fighting the rise in France of the political extremes.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen made the May 7 presidential election runoff for the first time; she was handily beaten by Macron but still achieved the highest-ever score for the National Front, her party with a history of anti-Semitism and racism. In the first-round ballot, far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon got nearly 20 percent of the vote.

In the village of Pieusse where Robert lives, Le Pen received 271 votes in Sunday’s presidential runoff, five more than Macron’s 266. “That’s really scary,” Robert, 55, said. “I feel like we are in danger.”

Also new to politics, she said she doesn’t plan to do big campaign rallies reading prepared speeches to bored crowds. Instead, she’ll do smaller gatherings to talk about specific local issues. Her family is well-known in the area for its sparkling wine, which she expects will help her pick up support.

“Yes, we can,” she said. “It’s going to be a great experience.”

Elaine Ganley and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

France’s new leader untested on foreign policy, but no dummy

May 09, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Elected on a reform agenda for France, President-elect Emmanuel Macron will quickly discover that foreign policy — an area not yet in his comfort zone — will eat up buckets of his time. On Europe, Macron has been crystal clear and vocal: keeping France at the center of the European Union was the dominant theme of his campaign. On global crises beyond Europe, such as North Korea, France’s youngest ever president has kept his cards closer to his chest.

That is partly because, in previous jobs as an investment banker and from 2014-16 as France’s economy minister, foreign policy wasn’t among Macron’s areas of expertise. His careful, measured forays into foreign affairs during the campaign signaled that Macron is aware of his own limitations and is allowing himself time to bone up on the issues before crafting his diplomacy.

“You have politicians who know that they don’t know and want to learn. And you have those who don’t know that they don’t know and who shoot off their mouths. He belongs, quite clearly, to the first category,” says Francois Heisbourg, a leading French expert on foreign affairs, defense and terrorism who has been advising Macron and his campaign team.

Macron has given some broad outlines but, on more than one occasion, has been wishy washy. On the Middle East, Macron has repeatedly said his top priority will be to continue the fight against the Islamic State group, which has claimed or inspired multiple attacks in France since 2015 that killed more 230 people. French warplanes have flown thousands of sorties and carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against the extremists, working in an international coalition.

Macron has also said he wants an engineered exit from power of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He labeled Assad “a criminal” after a sarin gas attack killed dozens in the town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.

The president-elect said the use of the deadly nerve agent should be punished with U.N.-sanctioned military force if Assad’s involvement is proven. But Macron has also expressed concerns that Syria could become an even more chaotic failed state if Assad is ousted suddenly, without a carefully planned transition.

“It’s very complicated,” Macron said last month. “We have to be serious.” With regard to Russia, Macron set himself apart from other candidates in the election by adopting a tougher stance toward President Vladimir Putin.

He said he wants to work with Russia, which backs Assad’s regime, in the fight against IS. But he laced his appeals for cooperation with warnings that Moscow “doesn’t share our values and preferences.”

Vowing not to be “accommodating” with Russia, he said last month: “We need an extremely demanding dialogue.” Macron favors renewed peace talks to stabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine in order to gradually diminish sanctions against Russia.

Macron’s tone hardened as the campaign wore on. There was widespread — but as yet unproven — speculation that Russia may have had a hand in the document leak that targeted Macron’s campaign in the final hours of the race.

Foreign affairs expert Heisbourg said that Russia and France’s allies will be watching how Macron now handles the aftermath of the hack, which is being investigated by the French government’s cybersecurity agency, ANSSI.

“The cyberattack was timed exquisitely. Russia’s fingerprints were all over the place. This was not simply a belated attempt to disrupt the campaign. It was a gauntlet, a challenge,” said Heisbourg, an adviser at the Paris think-tank Foundation for Strategic Research.

“He will be expected to respond one way or another to the challenge,” Heisbourg said. With the U.S., Macron says he wants continued intelligence-sharing and cooperation at the United Nations, and he hopes to persuade President Donald Trump not to pull Washington out of a global climate change accord.

Macron, committed to free trade, and Trump, who campaigned on promises to protect American jobs from foreign competition, appear poles apart. They’re also from different generations — Macron is 39, Trump 70.

They will likely meet for the first time at a NATO summit in Belgium on May 25 and they could surprise everyone by showing they have more in common than first meets the eye. Macron’s fluent English could help make personal chemistry easier. Both beat the odds and expectations by winning unlikely election victories. Both positioned themselves as outsiders in their respective political systems, which they promised to change. Trump was among the first world leaders to congratulate Macron on “his big win,” in a tweet Sunday night.

“They flouted all the rules of the established game. They were unelectable and they both got elected,” Heisbourg said. “They will probably find each other interesting.” Trump used foreign policy on the campaign trail to project himself as defender of U.S. interests, notably with China, which he called a “tremendous problem.” In power, he continues to shoot from the hip, recently calling North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un a “smart cookie.”

Macron has been more circumspect. One exception was during a televised debate with other candidates in March, when he launched into a long-winded and muddled explanation of what he called his “diplomatic roadmap.”

“It was miserable. It was exactly what you shouldn’t do: shooting off your mouth when you actually have a weak basis of knowledge, have not formed any reasoned and structured doctrine, and you just jabber and jabber,” Heisbourg said.

“That was seen as a mistake. He tended to avoid repeating it.”

Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet contributed to this report.

In a divided France, challenges await President-elect Macron

May 08, 2017

PARIS (AP) — It will be a short honeymoon for French President-elect Emmanuel Macron. France’s youngest president, who takes office Sunday, faces the daunting task of reuniting a troubled, divided nation riven by anxieties about terrorism, chronic unemployment, immigration and France’s relationship with the rest of Europe.

DIVIDED FRANCE

Unions held protests Monday in Paris’ Place de la Republique against Macron, a pro-business centrist and former Socialist economy minister who they consider as a traitor for allegedly threatening worker protections with economic reforms.

In the Paris metro, an advertisement was defaced with the words: “Macron: Not even started, already hated.”

It’s nothing new. Violent protests, egg-throwing and heckling disrupted the campaigns of both the president-elect and his defeated far-right rival Marine Le Pen. Those who couldn’t stomach either candidate in the presidential runoff protested with slogans reading: “Neither Fatherland, Nor Boss.”

The French are worried about the cultural, economic and religious impact of immigration and fear France’s ability to compete against giants like China and Google.

But the campaign’s nastiness turned voters off both the candidates and their proposed remedies. The runoff Sunday saw a sharp spike in voters who abstained or handed in blank or spoiled ballots — representing a third of the electorate.

THE JUNE PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION

In order to govern properly, Macron’s fledgling political movement La Republique En Marche (Republic On the Move) must now scramble together a majority of lawmakers in June’s parliamentary elections.

That won’t be easy. Macron is the first president of modern France elected as an independent.

Rivals who backed Macron to counter Le Pen in the presidential runoff will now be mobilized to defeat him in the two-round June 11 and 18 parliamentary vote, aiming to elect their own party members to the National Assembly. All 577 seats in the Assembly are up for grabs.

If another party wins a majority, Macron could be pressured to choose a prime minister from that party, a situation the French call “cohabitation.”

The Republicans, whose defeated presidential candidate Francois Fillon was hobbled by charges that his family benefited from taxpayer-funded jobs, still could emerge as the nation’s strongest political party.

If they win a majority, Francois Baroin, the leader of their parliamentary election campaign, could become a right-wing prime minister under the centrist Macron.

The last time France had “cohabitation” was under President Jacques Chirac in 1997-2002, who described the setup as a state of “paralysis.”

If Macron’s party performs poorly, he could also be forced to form a coalition, a common occurrence in many European countries but something very unusual in France.

EUROPE

The choice of the pro-EU Macron as president of the eurozone’s second-largest economy has prompted relief across the European Union.

In his victory speech, Macron vowed to “rebuild the relationship between Europe and the peoples that make it.” Symbolically, Macron also said German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be the first foreign leader he will meet as president.

But the future stability of the bloc is far from certain. EU divorce negotiations with Britain could turn ugly or a populist vote in neighboring Italy might reject the EU.

Le Pen’s “France first,” anti-Europe message struck a chord with great swathes of the country. She had campaigned to ditch the euro and hold a referendum on EU membership.

Macron’s task will be to show Le Pen’s voters that he will follow through on promises to fundamentally reform the 28-nation bloc.

The French president’s position in Europe will also become more powerful when Britain leaves the EU in 2019, as France will become the EU’s only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

PROTECTING FRANCE

With more than 230 people killed in extremist attacks since 2015, Macron needs to prove he has a robust plan to protect the French from terrorism.

The former banker launched his presidential campaign with a plan to tackle extremist attacks by obliging internet companies to release encrypted messages.

But Le Pen tried to paint him as weak and inexperienced on security issues while she promoted her plans to expel individuals on the security-threat list and stamp out Islamic extremism.

Macron rejected Le Pen’s plan to strip dual-nationals convicted of terror offenses of French nationality on rights grounds.

French presidency for Macron; name change for far-right

May 08, 2017

PARIS (AP) — France’s far-right National Front party is gearing up for a name change — but not a makeover of its ideas — after its decisive loss to centrist Emmanuel Macron. In interviews Monday, the campaign director for Marine Le Pen, David Rachline, said the party founded by her father would get a new name as bait to pull in more supporters in France. Macron won the presidency with 66 percent of votes cast for a candidate. But a high number of blank or spoiled votes and unusually low turnout are signs of an electorate dissatisfied with its choices.

Legislative elections next month will determine wither Macron can cobble together a governing majority. Rachline said Le Pen will lead the opposition to Macron.

Banker, economic adviser and now youngest French president

May 08, 2017

PARIS (AP) — Emmanuel Macron has been a star student, a champion of France’s tech startup movement, an investment banker and economy minister. But the man who will become France’s youngest president has never held elected office. After a campaign based on promises to revive the country through pro-business and pro-European policies, the 39-year-old centrist independent defeated far-right nationalist Marine Le Pen and her protectionist, anti-immigration party.

In his victory speech, Macron vowed to “rebuild the relationship between Europe and the peoples that make it.” He pledged to open a new page for France based on hope and “restored confidence.” It won’t be his first experience in the challenge of reforming France.

He quit his job as a banker at Rothschild to become Socialist President Francois Hollande’s economic adviser, working for two years by Hollande’s side at the presidential palace. Then as economy minister in Hollande’s government from 2014 to 2016, he promoted a package of measures, notably allowing more stores to open on Sundays and evenings and opening up regulated sectors of the economy.

Opponents on the left accused him of destroying workers’ protections. Tens of thousands of people poured into the streets for months of protests, and the government had to force the law through parliament under special powers.

Last year, Macron launched his own political movement, En Marche, or In Motion, and quit the Socialist government. He promised to shake up the political landscape by appointing a government that includes new figures from business and civil society.

His next challenge will be to get a parliamentary majority in an election next month to make major changes — with no mainstream party to support him. The strong advocate of a free market and entrepreneurial spirit has called for France to focus on getting benefits from globalization rather than the protectionist policies advocated by the far right.

In his political rallies, he encouraged supporters to wave both the French tricolor and the European Union flags. Le Pen, who has tapped into working-class anger at the loss of jobs and once-secure futures, called him the face of “the world of finance,” the candidate of “the caviar left.”

“I’m not under control of the banks. If that was the case, I would have kept working for them,” Macron answered. Macron had an unexpected test of his political skills following the first round of the vote during what became known as “the battle of Whirlpool,” when Le Pen upstaged him at a Whirlpool factory in Amiens that is threatened with closure.

Le Pen’s surprise appearance put him on the defensive and prompted him to meet with angry Whirlpool workers later the same day. He was whistled and booed when he first arrived. But he stood his ground, patiently debating workers in often heated exchanges about how to stop French jobs from moving abroad.

In a country shaken by recent terror attacks, he pledged to boost the police and military as well as the intelligence services and to put pressure on internet giants to better monitor extremism online.

To improve Europe’s security, he wants the EU to deploy some 5,000 European border guards to the external borders of the bloc’s passport-free travel zone. Macron did not campaign alone: His wife was never far away. Brigitte Macron, 24 years his senior, is his closest adviser, supporting him and helping prepare his speeches.

Macron and his wife have publicly described how their unusual romance started — when he was a student at the high school where she was teaching in Amiens in northern France. A married mother of three at the time, she was supervising the drama club. Macron, a literature lover, was a member.

Macron moved to Paris for his last year of high school. “We called each other all the time. We spent hours on the phone, hours and hours,” Brigitte Macron recalled in a televised documentary. “Little by little, he overcame all my resistances in an unbelievable way, with patience.”

She eventually moved to the French capital to join him and divorced. They married in 2007. Emmanuel Macron says he wants to formalize the job of first lady, adding “she has her word to say in this.” Following his victory speech in the courtyard of the Louvre, his wife appeared on stage by his side, with tears in her eyes.

AP video journalist David Keyton contributed to the story.

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