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France loves a pompous president

A regal Macron inspecting his troops. Mustafa Yalcin/Anadolu Agency/Getty

The “most telling moment” of Emmanuel Macron’s political career was in 2018, says Dominic Sandbrook in UnHerd, when he rebuked a teenager for addressing him as “Manu”. “No, no, no,” the 40-year-old president said, wagging a finger. “You call me ‘Monsieur le Président de la République’ or ‘Monsieur’.” This haughty response helps explain why he was re-elected on Sunday. Because “even if you can’t stand Macron and loathe his centrist politics”, you can’t deny he has always “looked and sounded as a French president should”.

France “loves a truly regal political leader”. In 1905, when he was only 15, Charles de Gaulle wrote a school essay predicting the future of France. He wrote that Germany would invade, but that the French would fight back victoriously under a fearless commander named “General de Gaulle”. And no president embodied the “purified essence of Frenchness” like Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. His term began with a “futile attempt” to look ordinary – riding on the Metro and inviting some dustmen for lunch at the Élysée. “But his voters didn’t like that and neither, deep down, did he.” So Giscard went to the other extreme. When he visited Poland, he had the French air force send fighter jets to bring his forgotten hunting rifles; on skiing trips he refused to queue for lifts. When Macron scolded that schoolboy, he showed a pomposity that voters love. “De Gaulle would have been proud.”

🍽🖼 When Margaret Thatcher made her first prime ministerial visit to Paris in 1979, Giscard insisted he be served before her at lunch. The French president reasoned that this made sense because he was head of state, whereas Thatcher was a mere head of government. “When Giscard next came to Downing Street, Thatcher got her revenge by deliberately seating him opposite two enormous portraits of Nelson and Wellington.”