Emmanuel Macron took power as president of France on Sunday, vowing to restore the country’s status in Europe and the world and heal divisions in society — a nod to the bitter campaign the pro-EU centrist fought to defeat a far-right leader.
The 39-year-old former investment banker, unknown to the wider public three years ago and whose May 7 election marked a meteoric rise to power, was inaugurated leader of the world’s fifth-largest economy in a solemn Elysee Palace ceremony.
Macron becomes the youngest post-war French leader and the first to be born after 1958, when President Charles de Gaulle put in place the country’s Fifth Republic.
In his first words after taking office, he pledged to restore France’s standing on the world stage, strengthen national self-confidence and heal divisions that the bitterly-fought campaign had opened up.
Macron beat the National Front’s Marine Le Pen in a May 7 run-off vote but the long campaign exposed deep divisions over France’s role in Europe, immigration, and policies to revive a sluggish economy bedeviled by high unemployment.
In a ceremony full of pomp, he was presented with what is effectively his chain of office — a heavy golden necklace mounted on a red cushion that makes him Grand Master of the National Order of the Legion d’Honneur.
But Macron appeared determined to create an impression of personal modesty. Aides went out of their way to emphasize that the dark suit he wore cost about 450 euros or just under $500, and that the lavender outfit worn by his wife Brigitte had been loaned by fashion house Louis Vuitton.
He displayed youthful vigor during the televised proceedings, at one point racing up the Elysee stairs to meet a protocol requirement — something not all previous French presidents might have managed.
He then chose to be driven by military jeep rather than civilian limousine to the Arc de Triomphe, where he stood in the rain, without coat or umbrella, to light the flame in tribute to France’s war dead at the tomb of the unknown soldier — a powerful reminder of France’s role in the NATO defense alliance.
Further underscoring a commitment to France’s military and peacekeeping role in the Middle East and Africa, he visited wounded service personnel in the military hospital. Aides have flagged a likely visit to French troops in Mali for next Friday.
Macron’s rise, marked by a 21-gun salute at the Esplanade des Invalides, signaled at least a pause in the anti-globalization trend that elevated businessman Donald Trump into the U.S. presidency and led British voters to choose Brexit.
He later shook hands with well-wishers on the Champs Elysees, not far from where a policeman was shot dead by a gunman in April.
More than 230 people have died in France in attacks claimed by Islamic State over the past two years as the country has taken part in military action against the militant group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq.
Fifteen hundred police were mobilized to ensure security for Macron’s inauguration while a large section of Paris was closed to traffic all morning.
Macron assumed power after an hour-long private meeting with outgoing President Francois Hollande, 62, in which official access to France’s nuclear missile launch codes was handed over.
Macron, once Hollande’s economy minister, then accompanied his former mentor down the red carpet to a waiting car.