In an interview, French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron discusses his surprise political ascent, the desire of many for a new kind of politics and the necessity of widespread reforms in his country.
We're on board the TGV 8434 train from Bordeaux to Paris. Emmanuel Macron, 39, the former economics minister and current presidential candidate is traveling in second class. The air is sticky in the compartment, in part because of the camera team that is accompanying Macron at each step of the campaign. With only five weeks to go before the first round of voting, the strain is visible.
Macron has become this campaign's true sensation, rising from the status of outsider to becoming one of the candidates with the greatest prospects for election. His ascent has been helped by a scandal involving conservative candidate François Fillon, who is the subject of a criminal investigation by the public prosecutor's office over allegations he used government money to pay his wife and children for jobs they never did.
Since the allegations surfaced, Macron has taken a lead over the candidate in polls going into the first round of voting on April 23. Right-wing populist Marine Le Pen also has only a slight lead over him, and it is likely that Macron would have a clear lead on the Front National leader in a run-off vote. If he prevails, Macron would become France's youngest-ever president.
During his interview with SPIEGEL during the train ride, Macron looked a little fatigued from the campaign, but he remained attentive and concentrated throughout.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Macron, in this thrilling election campaign, you essentially came out of nowhere to become the favorite, as an independent candidate without the backing of a party. Did that surprise you? And does it create pressure for you?
Macron: If I couldn't withstand the pressure in this election campaign, I would have had no business becoming a candidate. And no, the fact that I have come so far doesn't surprise me. I have considered everything: If I didn't believe I could win, I wouldn't have bothered with this whole venture.
SPIEGEL: Even if you had wanted to, you couldn't have anticipated that criminal proceedings would be initiated against conservative candidate Fillon. You also couldn't have predicted that the Socialists would field an unviable candidate.
Macron: But I did know that the political system as we know it -- and as I came to know it as a minister -- is running on empty. Something new was needed. Had we not founded the En Marche! political movement in April, the outcome of the primary elections probably would have been totally different -- both among the conservatives and the Socialists.
SPIEGEL: When did it become clear to you that you would run?