French President Macron’s hard line diplomacy on Russia

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron at Versailles on May 29, 2017 (image courtesy of wbur.org)

 

-Article by Alice Ferré

Three hundred years after Peter the Great’s visit to Versailles, Russian President Vladimir Putin was hosted in one of France’s most emblematic monument yesterday by French President Emmanuel Macron. While this venue seemed less official than the Elysée for a presidential meeting, the grandioseness of the golden palace set out that President Macron did not underestimate the importance of the international affairs to discuss, which included Ukraine, Syria, and human rights.

Over the past few years, the Franco-Russian relationship has plummeted to an unprecedented level as Russia tightened its grip on the Crimean region and destabilized eastern Ukraine, in disregard for the European Union’s sovereignty. In October 2016, former President François Hollande made it clear that President Putin’s visit to the opening of an Orthodox cultural center in Paris would have been inappropriate owing to Russia’s multiple vetoes on Syria at the United Nations Security Council. President Putin’s last unilateral visit goes back to 2012.

Wishing to advance the Ukrainian dilemma, President Macron explained during the conference that a “Normandy-like” meeting, gathering the Russian and Ukrainian presidents under the “chaperonage” of Berlin and Paris, would be needed to work on the Minsk agreement of February 2015. This meeting would be an ultimatum to Russia for possibly waiving its sanctions.

Regarding the Syrian conflict, President Macron called for an “inclusive” political solution in the long term to generate discussion “amongst all the parties, including Assad.” The talks would aim at limiting “the disintegration of Syria and fragilization of the region” while still fighting to eradicate the Islamic State and terrorism.

The news conference with the two leaders also presented an unexpected Russian news media backlashing from the French president.

President Macron had set a firm tone a few days earlier in an interview with the French weekly newspaper “Le Journal du Dimanche” by saying that before interlocutors such as Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Donald Trump, one has “not to miss any chance to gain respect in such power struggle.” 
In this optic, President Macron was intolerant in his critic of Russia’s controversial handling of human rights, such as the repression of the homosexual community and human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs). President Macron also shed light on Russia news media outlets such as the Kremlin-funded Russia Today and Sputnik, accusing them of having spread “fake news” to undermine his campaign.

NATO, Trump, Macron, and Counterterrorism

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New NATO headquarters (Image courtesy of interbuild.be)

-Article by Alice Ferré

In their first official meeting at the United States Embassy in Brussels, President Donald J. Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron mostly tackled the terrorism and climate change issues, two of the many transatlantic major concerns. The 43rd G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily, Italy, this week will allow European leaders and President Trump, along with Canada and Japan, to further discuss these topics.

Mr. Macron and Trump’s handshake caught everyone’s attention: in a “white-knuckled handshake,” the two leaders confirmed their collaboration and marked their territories, with Mr.Trump’s aggressive grip and Mr. Macron’s withholding Trump’s palm longer than expected.

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US President Donald J. Trump and France’s President Emmanuel Macron in the United States Embassy in Brussels. (image courtesy of LeFigaro.fr)

Although Mr. Macron wishes that Mr. Trump “does not make any precipitated decision” regarding the Paris agreement, he said the talk was “frank” and “pragmatic” and demonstrated a “will to reinforce our partnership and cooperation regarding our fight against terrorism.” Mr. Macron had previously sent signals of hope to Mr. Trump on the U.S. role; while visiting the soldiers of the “Barkhane” operation in Mali, Mr. Macron claimed that Mr. Trump’s allegations against Islamic terrorism did not make him doubt that he will maintain this kind of cooperation.

In this optic, President Trump convinced the European leaders to join him in an international coalition against the Islamic State, after a year of reluctance. European leaders, although already fighting terrorism nationally and internationally and engaging in this Washington-led coalition, feared that the formalization of this union under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization banner would trigger hostile comments from recent allies in the Middle East. “We will win this battle,” concluded President Trump referring to the Manchester bombing, an event that influenced the European leaders in their decision.

Jens Stoltenberg, the 13th Secretary General of NATO, said this union would “send a strong political message of unity in fighting terrorism. However, this will not mean that NATO will engage in fighting abroad.” 
One fear remaining is that Mr. Trump did not explicitly endorse the article 5 of the Washington Treaty, NATO’s mutual defense pledge assuring that the WWII allies must bring assistance to one of them if they are attacked; such omission might frighten the Baltic states that wish to escape Russia’s exponential hegemony in the region.

One condition for President Trump to abide NATO (the President previously declared the organization was “obsolete”) is that European nations spend more on national defense and the military, which echoes Trump’s claim in Saudi Arabia that the fight against terrorism is a “shared burden.” So far, the decision taken in 2014 that each country should spend 2% of their GDP on defense seems to be slowly but surely achieved; according to NATO, the nations’ cumulated budgets raised by 3,8% in 2016 (or 10 billion dollars). Europeans have until 2024 to achieve their goal. Mr. Trump, however, complained about “chronic underpayments” to the military alliance during his speech yesterday. “If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today.” Mr. Trump later said that the assembling of the 2% was a failure, “with 23 of the 28 member nations still not paying what they should be paying.”

Regarding other defense resources, France, for instance, will not invest in NATO-stamped missions, such as the failed “Unified Protector” operation launched in Libya in 2011 to oust dictator Muhammad Qaddafi.

Mr. Trump was received in the new NATO headquarters, which will officially open this December. The new building, representing eight fighters crisscrossing each other, will have at its entrance a vestige from the Twin Towers, a symbol of the counterterrorism fight.

Understanding Moon Jae-in

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South Korean president Moon Jae-In, front left, taking a selfie with a supporter after the vote on May 9, 2017 (Photo by Park Young-tae/ Newsis via AP)

One week has passed since the left-leaning liberal Moon Jae-in decisively won South Korea’s presidential election. “Harmony and incorporation” were the fundamental doctrines of his candidacy as South Korea has become an increasingly divided nation since the removal of Park Geun Hye due to a massive corruption scandal.

During the campaign, Moon pledged to reduce the political influence of chaebols, the large Korean business conglomerates typically owned by single lines of families, in the wake of the corruption scandals that tarnished the legacy of previous presidents. He also vowed to offer different methods to soothe North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs by enhancing dialogue rather than punishing Pyongyang, which was a policy of force employed by the former administration.

According to the Yeonhap News Agency, Moon’s close associates noted that Moon spent much of his life fighting for the socially weak, leading to say that the growing social and economic inequality should be the priority for the next government. In his inauguration speech, Moon swore that “once again, under the Moon Jae In government and the Democratic Party of Korea, everyone will have equal opportunities. The process will be fair, and the result will be righteous… I will be a president who wipes away the citizens’ tears. I promise to be a president who interacts with the citizens.”

Moon was born on South Korea’s Geoje Island in 1953 after his parents fled the North in

December 1950, the year that the Korean War broke out. At that time, the devastated postwar South Korea lacked the economic basis to sustain a families of refugees: In his autobiography, “Moon Jae In -The Destiny,” Moon recalls and ponders over his family’s difficult financial situation: “Poverty was at the center of my childhood, but being poor did teach me some lessons: I was more independent and mature than my peers. I also realized that money is not the most important thing in life.”

Despite his precarious situation, Moon excelled in school and earned a law degree from the prestigious Kyung Hee University. Moon took a prominent role in the student protests during the 1970s opposing the decades-long dictatorship of Park Chung Hee, father of former President Park Geun Hye. Although his activism momentarily penalized him during his university career with an arrest and brief expulsion, his activist background radically disqualified him when Moon applied for governmental jobs.

Moon then relocated to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city, where he began his career as a human rights lawyer. He worked with his lifelong comrade Roh Moo Hyun during the 1980s under the governance of authoritarian military leader Chun Doo Hwan.
Even after Roh entered politics, Moon pursued his legal practice in Busan, defending students and workers arrested for leading protests and labor strikes.

After Roh’s election victory in 2002, Moon became one of the president’s aides, working to eliminate corruption in the highest spheres of the government and screening candidates for top government jobs. He was later promoted as Roh’s chief of staff where he gained his first experience in politics. Moon has been closely associated with Roh, until the latter committed suicide in 2009 as allegations of bribery started to threaten his family and close associates.

From day one, Moon displayed his willingness to break away from the pervasive

authoritarianism that have long been associated with the Korean presidency. He first visited the four top opposition parties and National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye Kyun before the inauguration ceremony. Though some might have been staged as a publicity stunt, Moon was also photographed moving along the line at the Blue House cafeteria while chatting with his aides in an informal setting – thus contrasting himself from his ousted predecessor Park.

Also, Moon’s decision to spend much of his time in one of the three small buildings designed for top presidential aides’ offices instead of the presidential compound is another proof of the new leader’s determination to make himself more readily approachable, unlike Park who rarely considerated her aides. Park’s lack of communication stemming from the detachment from the public and her aides is believed to be one of the leading causes that ruined Park’s presidency.

The newly elected South Korean Leader Moon Jae In’s life as a son of poor North Korean refugees, student activist, and renowned human rights lawyer seems to have shaped his core ideologies; as he successfully endured a turbulent life, Moon appears destined to lead South Korea’s complex affairs for the next five years, which is likely to promote hope in the country’s future.

 

President Macron’s government disclosed

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L’Elysée (courtesy of Thomas Samson from APF via LesEchos.fr)

– Article by Alice Ferré

This article has been updated. 

As Emmanuel Macron was inaugurated on Sunday as France’s new president, he is now expected to announce his Cabinet’s choices. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, a high official declared Macron’s government will embody “the unexpected mating of Michel Rocard and Dominique Strauss-Khan,” resulting in technocratic and practical leftist politics.

The Elysée Secretary of State is the 44-year-old Alexis Khoner, also part of France’s young political elite. His role is to coordinate the cabinet officials, advise the president, and take decisions that are considered to be within the president’s political line of action. Khoner graduated from Sciences Po and the prestigious ESSEC and ENA, three schools that form the politicians of tomorrow. He also worked as the secretary of the Treasury and for the IMF before 2012. In 2014, he moved to Geneva, Switzerland, where he became the director of the Italian cruise company MSC Cruises. Described as “loyal” and “always enthusiastic” by one of his relatives, according to Le Monde, Khoner will become Macron’s right arm.

Patrick Strozda was named the Elysee Chief of Staff. The former prefect of Bretagne and head of the defense and security zone in the West of France is remembered for his iron fist during the protests last summer against the El Khomri law. He was also prefect of Corsica, one of the most delicate prefectural functions in France, from 2011 to 2013, and of other regions over the past ten years. He seems to have had no political attachments or preferences in his career, according to Le Monde.

The head of the National Security Council is Philippe Etienne, former French ambassador in Berlin. This choice underlines Macron’s will to keep strong links with Germany in a European-oriented politic. Etienne is also part of the French political elite and is a polyglot, mastering seven languages other than French, including English, Romanian, German, Russian, Spanish, and Serbo-Croatian. Etienne’s diplomatic career amounts to Belgrad and Bonn in the 1980s, and to Brussels where he was a prime counselor at the European Union in the 2000s before becoming the EU’s ambassador from 2009 to 2014. He directed Former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner’s cabinet from 2007 to 2009. Etienne’s team is also supposed to be composed of specialists in the Middle-East and the United States.

The new president seems to have chosen an experienced cabinet aligning with his intentions and wishes for the president’s five-year term. President Macron’s pick for Prime Minister is the former mayor of the city of Havre, Edouard Philippe.

The 16 ministers appointed by the Prime Minister are:

  • Gérard Collomb as Secretary of the Interior. Collomb was one of the first politicians to endorse Macron and was in charge of collecting sponsorship signatures for his candidate. He was also the socialist mayor of Lyon since 2001.
  • Nicolas Hulot as Minister of the Ecology (equivalent to the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S.). President Macron respected his promise of implementing a partly civilian government with half of the ministers having no previous political background albeit being specialists in their fields. Hulot is a widely-known ecology activist who co-founded and hosted the ecological awareness campaign and TV show “Ushuahia” for 25 years on France’s first TV channel. Former presidents Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, and François Hollande solicited his expertise in the past, without success.
  • François Bayrou as Minister of Justice. Bayrou is well-known on the political scene: he is the MoDem leader (a centrist party) and unsuccessfully ran for office three times. Bayrou was, however, nominated twice as Minister of Education in the 1990s and also accumulated the titles of Mayor of the city of Pau, Congressman over 35 years of political service.  He was Macron’s devoted supporter even before the first round.
  • Sylvie Goulard as the Secretary of Defense. Goulard is a pro-Europe and centrist Congressman who joined Macron’s party in 2016. Working at the European committee since 2009, she is a member of a “europhile” association over the past four years. She is defending the idea of a federal Europe.
  • Jean-Yves Le Drian as the Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs. He was previously Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs under Hollande’s government.
  • Richard Ferrand as the Minister of Territorial Cohesion; he was the first socialist to leave the Socialist Party to join En Marche! in 2016 after 18 years at the SP. Macron’s blacksmith and ally in the implementing of the “Loi Macron,” Ferrand worked at the Ministry of Social Affairs since 1991 and was one of the Finistère’s Congressmen.
  • Agnès Buzyn as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. She is also unknown in the political sphere; she is a doctor and medical studies professor, head of the National Cancer Institute. In 2016, she was the first woman to be appointed as the head of one of France’s highest independent research centers.
  • François Nyssen as the Minister of Culture. Nyssen also has no political experience but is a heavy-weight in the editorial world: she is the head of Actes Sud, received the Legion of Honor in 2013, and the title of best businesswoman in 1991. She has been co-coordinating Luc Besson’s movie label group EuropaCorp since 2011.
  • Bruno Le Maire as the Minister of Economy. Le Maire was candidate during the right party’s primaries and is accustomed to political life as he was L’Eure’s regional counselor, Secretary of State and minister. He was the first rightist politician who offered his services to Macron on May 7.
  • Muriel Penicaud as the Minister of Labor. Penicaud is Danone’s previous director of human resources. She also worked at administrative councils for SNCF and Orange. In the 1990s, she was the counselor of previous Minister of Labor, Martine Aubry.
  • Jean-Michel Blanquer as the Minister of Education. Blanquer, being the director of the prestigious management and business schools l’ESSEC, is well-respected in the educative community and could be seen as an expert, a technocrat of the educative system. He also previously worked at the Minister of Education as the right arm of Luc Chatel from 2009 to 2012.
  • Jacques Mézard as the Minister of Agriculture. Congressman of Cantal since 2008, Mézard is also representative of the extreme-left movement; however, he was a fervent Macron supporter during the presidential campaign.
  • Gérald Darmanin as the Minister of Budget (Secretary of the Treasury). Darmanin, 34, is the youngest minister. His ministry includes the management of the Treasury and Social Security. Darmanin is one of the rising stars of the rightist party Les Républicains and was Mayor and Congressman of Tourcoing.
  • Frédérique Vidal as the Minister of Superior Education, Research, and Innovation. Vidal is also not a politician but is a researcher and director of the famous Nice university and predominant research pole Sophia Antipolis.
  • Annick Girardin as the Minister of Overseas Territories. Girardin worked under the Hollande’s administration and was a regional counselor and Congressman of Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon.
  • Laura Flessel as Minister of Sports. Five years after returning her sword, the former fencer, who received an Olympic medal and was six times world champion, enters the political scene. She is a member of numerous Handicap International associations.

Presidential inauguration in France: Emmanuel Macron becomes the 8th president of France’s fifth Republic

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France’s new president Emmanuel Macron during his first presidential speech, on May 14. (courtesy of RTL.fr)

– Article by Alice Ferré

On May 14, only a week away from the election, Emmanuel Macron officially became France’s newest president.
Mr. Macron is the 8th president of the Fifth Republic launched in 1958 after then-president Charles de Gaulle had orchestrated constitutional changes to reinforce the executive’s powers.

The inauguration ceremony started with a private meeting between President Macron and former President Hollande in the presidential office, the Golden Salon. Although the talk was supposed to last thirty minutes, the two politicians reappeared an hour later. Once they walked out of the Elysée, Macron walked Hollande to his car. As Hollande’s Renault Espace drove away under the applause of Macron and the public, the new president was led inside.

The swearing-in ceremony continued with the president receiving the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits since 1802. President Macron entered the room to the rhythm of the symphony he had himself chose for the event, Camille Saint Saëns’ “Lauriers,” written in 1919 to celebrate the Allies’ victory.  A speech from the president of the Constitutional Council Laurent Fabius followed; it traditionally announced the results of the presidential election to remind the legitimacy of Mr. Macron’s investiture. Traditions, although, were momentarily put aside as Fabius declared Macron to be “a man of our time” with a “revolutionary” campaign.

The new president then gave his first presidential speech before television cameras and 300 guests. “The French chose hope and competitive spirit. They entrusted me with a responsibility that is an honor of which I measure the solemnity.” Macron called for more business innovation and creation in France, as well as a newly founded hope in Europe. “We need a more efficient, democratic, and political Europe because it is the instrument of our power and sovereignty. I will make sure of it.” Macron also claimed that he will devote himself to bringing the French together after years of division.

The President then saluted the military before going to La Place de L’Etoile with a presidential escort (the motorcycle cops and cavalry of the Republican Guard) to pay homage to the unknown soldier, buried under the Arc de Triomphe and symbol of all fallen French soldiers of any war France fought.
The president also insisted on visiting the three French soldiers, that were wounded in Mali and Afghanistan, at the hospital where they rest. “For my first presidential trip, I would like to be at their bedsides to defend our nation and freedom around the world,” said Macron.

Macron’s first international presidential trip will be in Germany today to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel.

 

Netflix’s newest series “13 Reasons Why” helps taboo dialogue of suicide in Brazil

by Rebecca Giovannetti

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Image courtesy of “familyzone.com”

 

Launched last March, the Netflix original series phenomenon 13 Reasons Why opened a worldwide debate about suicide. Based on the 2007 Jay Asher’s novel, the 13-episode series revolves around a teenager, Hannah Baker, who committed suicide after experiencing successive tragic and traumatizing events, such as bullying, cyberbullying, and rape.

The series starts with a sequence that shows one of Hannah’s classmates, receiving 13 tapes recorded by her. In each of these, Hannah explains to each person that failed her the wrong they did and the part they played in her suicide.

In Brazil, the effects of this series amongst young people are palpable. In April, one month after the series premiere, there was a 445 percent increase in help calls and emails to the Brazilian center for suicide prevention, the Centro de Valorização da Vida, attributed to this extraordinary increase to the themes the Netflix series portrays.

According to a Latin American University of Social Sciences study, the suicide rate in Brazil had a 62.5 percent increase from 1980 to 2012, making suicide the third cause of death behind homicide and car crashes. However, this topic is still not easily discussed among families and news outlets.

While it is very hard to pinpoint exactly what makes young people want to end their lives, the common factor for more than 50 percent of suicide amongst teenagers is a major and continuous depression, according to a study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses in Brazil, with 80 to 90 percent diagnosed responding well to treatment and gaining relief from the symptoms.

However, understanding that depressed young people can also take their own lives is hard, even in modern days.

Psychiatrist Neury José Botega says that shedding light on the subject and opening the conversation in Brazilian family circles can help prevent such tragedies. “Since suicide is still a taboo subject, we can have the wrong impression that the problem doesn’t exist on a big scale. But this is not true,” he said in an interview for a Brazilian magazine.

 13 Reasons Why sparked many conversations and critiques as suicide is the final and absolute narrative of Hannah. Yet, the way factors that led to her death are shown to viewers opened up discussions on how most people consider adolescents’ emotions.

Experiences during teenage years, formatting the transition to adulthood, mean the most to the psychological and emotional growth of the teenager. However, not many Brazilian families talk about suicide and the reasons behind it, dismissing these factors as teenage drama.

The fact that 13 Reasons Why caused an astronomical 445 percent increase in calls for help in Brazil should not be ignored. It displays an intrinsic and desperate need for this topic to gain importance in the Brazilian community, a need many psychologists already agree should not be brushed aside.

The Netflix original series opens up the suicide topic in many other countries that still consider suicide as taboo, the United States included, where suicide is also the third leading cause of death among American young people, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Right now, it is too soon to tell how much more the topic of suicide will expand in the Brazilian familial dialogue, but it is clear that 13 Reasons Why stirred the need for Brazilians to address these issues. New generations won’t be easily shut down by tradition and taboo anymore.

 

Emmanuel Macron, the new French president to bring a fresh air of optimism and relief

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President-elect Emmanuel Macron imposed himself as the symbol of renewal, hope, unity, and resistance against extremism. The sign reads, “Together, France!” (courtesy of 20minutes.fr)

 

Emmanuel Macron, leader of the centrist party “En Marche!” was elected the new president of France this Sunday. He ousted Marine Le Pen of the National Front out of the race with a score of 65,8%. Le Pen scored 34,2%.
The participation rate amounted to 74,7% according to the French polling institute Ipsos-Sopra Steria, meaning that 25,3%, or 12 million people, did not vote. 4,2 million people left their ballots blank. It is the highest abstention rate for a second presidential tour since 1969.

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Vote participation at the presidential second tour over the years from 1965 to 2017 (courtesy of LeMonde.fr)

‘The lost credibility and legitimacy of the main political parties’

During her defeat speech, Le Pen announced that she had congratulated Macron for his victory and wished him luck to fight against “the immense challenge that France is facing.” She thanked the 11 million voters and the royalist François Dupont-Aignan from the political party La France Debout that “trusted and supported” her over the past months of campaigning for “their courageous and founding choice.”

“With such a historical and massive result for the National Front, the people designated us as the only legitimate patriotic and republican force of opposition. Those who took the responsibility to elect Mr. Macron lost their credibility and legitimacy to represent an alternative political force.”

Le Pen also pointed out that this election signed off “the decomposition of the French political scene through the elimination of the two main parties, Les Républicains and the Socialist Party, and thus reorganized the division between patriots and globalists.

She called her supporters to prepare for the legislative elections of the French Assembly on June, 11. “For those who want to choose France, defend her independence, liberty, prosperity, security, identity, and social model. For those who are worried about the next five years.”

‘Renewal of faith and strength’

President-elect Macron also thanked his voters for their trust and expressed his “profound gratefulness.”

“Nothing was written, so I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your votes and support. I will invest all my energy in being worthy of your trust.”

He also addressed the National Front and France Insoumise voters. “To all citizens, difficulties have weakened us for a long time now. I would thus like to salute all of you and respect those of you who voted for the extremes and those who doubt. I respect you.”

“I want to ensure our nation’s unity because behind each one of my words, there are men, women, children, and families. Tonight, I am talking to you. The people of France have duties to their country: we are the heirs of a grand story and humanist message. We have to transmit this story, this message, and those values to our children and carry them towards the future to give them a new lifeblood.”

“I will defend France’s interests and image; I hold this commitment before you. I will reforge the links between Europe and the peoples that form it.
I also address to all nations in the world a fraternal, peaceful, and respectful salute from France…from a France who respects its commitments towards the fight against terrorism and climate change.”

“Tonight is the night of a new page of a long story: the story of renewed hope and faith, democratic vitality, and pluralism. I will endorse the responsibility to appease the fears, rebuild the optimism, and gather the French to fight the great upcoming challenges.”

“Let us love France from tonight and for the five next years. I will, with humility and devotion, serve this country on your behalf. Vive la République et vive la France.”

Unlike in the United States, the president-elect will hold office a week after he got elected, on May, 14. Choices for prime minister and its newly formed government will also be unveiled mid-May.