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World

Understanding French Presidential Candidate Emmanuel Macron

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

On Sunday, French voters have a chance to elect their youngest president. Emmanuel Macron is 39, a former economy minister and leader of a new political movement he calls En Marche! - on the move. His supporters include Alexandre Meslin, a parliamentary assistant in the French senate, who joins us by Skype. Welcome to the program, Sir.

ALEXANDRE MESLIN: Thank you. Great to be with you.

INSKEEP: So many Americans looking at this from a distance see this as Le Pen, Marine Le Pen, with a drastic change versus Macron, who would keep the system in France and in Europe essentially as it is. Does your candidate want to keep the system as it is?

MESLIN: No, no, frankly not. He has been chosen for the runoff because of this reason. He has beaten the two main parties, the Socialist Party, who is a ruling party, and the right-wing party was expected to win. So they voted for him because he is bringing a new renewal. So that's what he calls his movement. That's why he's been chosen, I think.

INSKEEP: So we know what he's not. He's not a member of the mainstream parties. But what change does he want?

MESLIN: He wants a change in generation, I guess. He wants to bring a lot of young people into the political process. That's what his movement is about. People were depressed in France about the political system, and he has brought a new generation of people into the political process, campaigning for him, changing ideas. So I guess that's - he represents change, too, another kind of change compared to Marine Le Pen.

INSKEEP: It's interesting when you talk about people being depressed because you hear similar things from Marine Le Pen, the other candidate who's still standing in this runoff. As we've heard on this program, she objects to the amount of immigration into France, complains about diluting French culture. And we also had an adviser to Le Pen, Mikael Sala, on the program this week who raised a complaint that's going to sound familiar to many Americans. Let's listen to that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

MIKAEL SALA: In every French family, you have one or two people who are unemployed, who can't find jobs, who get fired at, you know, 50 and who will never get a job again. This is not fair.

INSKEEP: Is that an accurate description of the French economy right now?

MESLIN: It is accurate. But Le Pen party is blaming the immigrants about this. And we are blaming the system, the fact that people are not educated enough or they don't have the right education to get you to jobs, like the new economy, the new technologies. So they're only blaming immigrants. We are saying that the problems can be fixed without blaming anyone. It's a French problem. It's not an outside problem.

INSKEEP: Would Emmanuel Macron attack the French unions, French regulations, the power of the French state, things that some conservatives at least would blame for France's slow economic growth over the decades?

MESLIN: I think he has said he would go into that direction. He wants to reform the labor market, which has been a very important problem for the French employment for years. So he wants to tackle the real problems that, you know, prevent people from getting a decent and well-paid job. So - and he wants to reduce the number of public agents. So he wants to go to that direction, but he needs to stay moderate.

INSKEEP: One other thing - of course, the European Union may be at stake here because France, depending on the election result, could pull out. Does the European Union still make sense?

MESLIN: Yeah, of course. Yes, it makes sense. It's our new horizon, if I could say, because France cannot achieve the great goals alone. We need to stay friends with our allies in Europe. I think what Marine Le Pen wants to achieve is just a complete mess. It's just a complete mess. And she changes, all the time, her ideas. Emmanuel Macron represents, I think, what we need for the future.

INSKEEP: Mr. Meslin, thanks very much for taking the time to talk with us today. I really appreciate it.

MESLIN: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: Alexandre Meslin joined us by Skype. He's a parliamentary assistant in the French senate and supports the presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.