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Published on 10 November 2017

#World - At home in the world

At 39, French President Emmanuel Macron is just getting started.

Published on the9th of November 2017 in Time Magazine

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.”

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