Geopolitics

Behind Any Great Man, The Singular Role Of Brigitte Macron

France's incoming First Lady is 24 years older than Emmanuel Macron, her husband and former drama student. How this unusual presidential couple is rewriting the rules of French politics.

Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron celebrating with supporters on May 7
Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron celebrating with supporters on May 7
Vanessa Schneider

PARIS — Never did Emmanuel Macron, the French president-elect, plan to do any of this without her. Brigitte Macron, his wife, was always part of the equation. And come Sunday, when the presidency officially changes hands, she will have her rightful place at the Elysée Palace.

"In any case, there is something in the presidential function that involves the couple," Emmanuel Macron told the magazine Paris Match on May 4. "I accept that and I think she does too."

He touched on the issue two months earlier as well, on March 8 — International Women's Day — during a visit to a Parisian theater. "If I'm elected," he said, "she won't be hidden away, not behind a tweet, a hideout or anything else. She'll be by my side because she's always been by my side." The comments were a thinly veiled reference to Valérie Trierweiler, the former partner of outgoing President François Hollande, and to Hollande's secret life with the actress Julie Gayet.

For the first time in a long while, a close-knit couple will be moving into the presidential residence.

Before the outgoing president's sentimental vaudeville, his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, was ditched just weeks after his election by his then wife, Cécilia Ciganer. Before that, Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette, had occupied different quarters at the Elysée, and François and Danielle Mitterrand had long ceased to share their daily lives.

Brigitte Macron, 64, will be a full-time first lady, just like she was a full-time candidate's wife. The unusual couple rose to power together. Never has a candidate's spouse played such an important role in a French presidential campaign. She took part in every moment of her husband's rise, not as a passive spectator, but as a real actor on the battlefield.

For the first time in a long while, a close-knit couple will be moving into the presidential residence.

She was not involved in her husband's political strategy or policy program, but she did proofread his speeches and coach him, as she had done back when she was his drama teacher — all the while managing his schedule, acting as his spin doctor and as a link between the candidate and the outside world. A natural collaboration for this couple, described as "inseparable" by their friend Jacques Attali, a veteran economic and social theorist and political adviser.

"Brigitte is a little bit of myself and vice versa," Emmanuel Macron told Paris Match. "She's essential to me."

But nothing had prepared the former French teacher to public life. "Only three years ago, she didn't know anything about the world of politics," notes her friend and writer Philippe Besson, adding that she is still "bewildered" by the violence of the environment in which she now finds herself immersed.

When Emmanuel Macron was appointed economy minister in August 2014, Brigitte had to adapt. A few months later, she left her teaching job at Saint-Louis de Gonzague, a prestigious private high school in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, to join her husband at the ministry.

With no salary nor official position, she quickly made herself indispensable to the office, taking part in meetings about her husband's schedule and organizing his dinners and lunches, both social and professional. And Emmanuel Macron defended her presence loud and clear: "You don't work well when you're not happy," he once told a journalist. "Public life consumes your private life. Brigitte has to understand what I do, she needs to listen and sometimes express her opinion."

In August 2016, when Macron decided to leave the government and set out on his presidential adventure, he gathered his team members at the economy ministry one last time and made a point of thanking his wife and praising her discreet role, "because she was a part of this office."

The presence of Brigitte on the campaign undeniably improved her husband's image.

And yet, Brigitte's place did not remain discreet for very long. The couple deliberately staged paparazzi snapshots published in the celebrity press and spread small confidences here and there. Their decision to allow Pierre Hurel, the director of a documentary on Macron, to use excerpts from their wedding video had some undesirable consequences: Brigitte's appearance was mocked and she was the target of misogynistic comments over their 24-year age gap.

Her part in Macron's rise to power, and her direct and even brutal way of talking to him when she thought he did not perform well, had some people in the campaign gritting their teeth. But anyone who risked voicing the slightest criticism was swiftly set straight by the candidate. Eventually, even the most skeptical had to admit that the presence of Brigitte on the campaign — always smiling and affable and taking the time to speak with people, take selfies and give autographs — undeniably improved her husband's image.

Her popularity and their oft-recounted love story showed a more humane side of a man repeatedly perceived as too technocratic and bland. Rarely in politics has a couple been so often on the magazine's front pages. And not just in France. The international press has grown passionate about Brigitte Macron, her look is analyzed by fashion specialists, her idyll with the young president studied by romance enthusiasts.

The glossy magazine strategy did not always go smoothly. In April 2016, after an interview Brigitte gave to Paris Match triggered negative reactions, Emmanuel Macron offered a clumsy defense: "My wife doesn't really know the way the media works. Actually, she deeply regrets it. It's a mistake, a mistake we made together."

And on the evening of the election's first round, Emmanuel Macron was criticized for bringing his wife on stage with him, as if he had already been elected. It was a dress rehearsal of sorts. Brigitte Macron had earned her place in the photograph, and the French are about to see a lot more of her.

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Future

How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.


Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

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