Macron holds first Paris rally as presidency bid rumors swirl

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 12, 2016 12:48 PM

By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) - France's Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron is to hold the first rally of his recently launched political movement on Tuesday in a show of strength that will do nothing to curb speculation he is planning to run for president.

The 38-year-old former investment banker, who launched the En Marche, or Forward, party in April, has kept the country guessing about his political ambitions, refusing to confirm or deny whether he would run for president in next year's election.

The movement he wants to be "neither of the left nor of the right" could shake up the political landscape, with the mainstream center-right and center-left parties under pressure from the rise of the far-right National Front.

At the Mutualité conference center in Paris' Latin Quarter, a venue often used for rallies by left-wing grandees, the pro-reform minister will not declare a bid or announce his resignation, a spokeswoman for En Marche told Reuters.

"There are many rumors, many questions, it's true, with many people wanting him to be a candidate as soon as today," she said. "But he will explain his method and say why we should take stock and work on proposals before thinking of personal issues."

However, a minister, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, was not so sure that one of France's most popular politicians was not going to use the rally, where several lawmakers are expected to show up, to make his intentions clear.

"What is Macron going to say tonight? It's been so long I'm told he won't say anything that I'm getting worried. Macron is a political alien, so everything is possible," the minister said.

Macron, who came to symbolize President Francois Hollande's 2014 pro-business U-turn, has also hinted at loftier political ambitions.

On the sidelines of the Tour de France race, he told the Journal du Dimanche last week: "When you cycle, you must aim for the yellow jersey."

His Paris rally also comes just two days before the annual Bastille day presidential speech, one of Hollande's last chances to shore up his popularity, the lowest of any post-war leader.

Macron's ambivalence has increasingly grated with fellow cabinet ministers and lawmakers in the Socialist majority, with some publicly expressing irritation with him.

Budget Minister Christian Eckert took to Twitter earlier this month to criticize "superman" who by speaking outside his brief acted as if he was the only master of the sprawling Finance Ministry complex by the river Seine.

A leak at the Finance Ministry also caused him embarrassment last month when it revealed the value of the Macron couple's villa in the chic resort of Le Touquet near Calais had made him liable for the country's wealth tax.

But the episode has not dented his popularity. He came top as the politician the French most wanted the Socialist party to pick for presidential candidate, well ahead of Hollande who came 7th, according to an Elabe poll for BFMT TV released on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Janet Lawrence)