Emmanuel Macron’s point man in his campaign to conquer Brussels is a former European parliamentary assistant who looks like he’s barely out of high school.
Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade has been tasked with laying the groundwork for the French president’s next big political test: The European Union’s 2019 changing of the political guard — which starts with the election for European Parliament and culminates with the selection of the presidents of the European Commission and Council.
Macron knows he will need a power base in Brussels if he is to realize his ambition of reforming and strengthening the European Union. His problem is that the En Marche movement he formed during his march to the Elysée palace has almost no representation in the European Parliament — never mind the Commission.
That’s why Anglade — a 31-year-old member of the French National Assembly who was elected last summer to represent French citizens living in the Benelux region — spent the past few months quietly sounding out whether individual members of Parliament, or entire parties, would be willing to jump ship and join an alliance under Macron’s leadership.
“We’ve developed En Marche at a national level. Now we must develop it at a European level” — Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade
The young MP has been operating under the radar, but his task is daunting. Macron sees the 2019 parliamentary election as a major showdown between liberalism and populism in Europe. At home, it’s also a rematch of the French presidential contest, an opportunity for National Front leader Marine Le Pen to show she’s still a political power capable of inflicting punishment on En Marche — or a chance for Macron to bury his opponent once and for all.
Anglade’s job is to scout the battlefield in preparation for a clash that will in large part decide whether Macron can realize the ambitious European reforms he called for in his speech at Paris’ Sorbonne University in September. Whether he’s successful will be as important for Macron’s European fortunes as any accommodation the French president can reach with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
His first task: Use the 2019 election to put Macron’s stamp on the EU capital — by creating a new political group from scratch or building on an existing force in Parliament.
“We’ve developed En Marche at a national level,” said Anglade. “Now we must develop it at a European level.”
By the standards of the French political establishment, Anglade is an unlikely candidate to be entrusted with such a delicate task; these jobs are normally reserved for powerful party insiders.
The young MP didn’t study at the prestigious École Nationale d’Administration, France’s traditional elite school for politicians. He’s never held a government portfolio, and he didn’t belong to a political party before joining En Marche in 2016.
Skinny and soft-spoken, Anglade was raised by a divorced mother in a Paris suburb. He studied at Sciences Po in Strasbourg. What distinguishes him is an early embrace of Macron and his movement.
In a letter sent to Macron months before he launched En Marche, Anglade declared his admiration for the then-economy minister and encouraged him to launch his own political movement.
“I told him we were getting close to a reshaping of political life everywhere in Europe … and that the French were ready for something new,” Anglade said. Members of Macron’s Cabinet wrote back, saying his message was “interesting,” but didn’t follow up.
When Macron launched his bid for the presidency in November 2016, Anglade was a parliamentary assistant and political adviser, who had worked successively for MEPs Nathalie Griesbeck and Pavel Telička, two members of the liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) parliamentary group.
Anglade, who joined En Marche early on, set up a branch of the movement in Belgium. He organized meetings in cafés and bars in Brussels, attended by employees of the EU institutions “who suffered from France’s loss of influence in the EU,” he said.
After Macron’s victory in May 2017, Anglade quit his job at the Parliament to campaign for the French National Assembly under the En Marche banner. He was elected in June and is now a vice president of the EU affairs committee in the National Assembly and a member of the defense committee.
Even now, Anglade remains outside the French president’s immediate orbit; he has met Macron just a few times, and on no occasion did the encounter go much beyond a short chat.
Anglade — young, an outsider, self-motivated and willing to take risks to get ahead — shares many of the traits that made Macron successful, and that the French president values in others. “He has knowledge and experience,” said MEP Telička of his former staffer. “In his case, experience is not about age, but what you are able to absorb, what you gained, and what you went through.”
Taking Brussels by storm
With few prominent Macron supporters in the European Parliament, Anglade has filled a void.
Sylvie Goulard, a former liberal MEP, was Macron’s most trusted advocate in the Parliament but she quit in 2016 to become his defense minister and was later appointed deputy governor of France’s central bank. Jean Arthuis, a 73-year-old senior liberal MEP, was another early supporter of Macron, but he is part of an old generation of politicians that Macron consults but keeps out of the limelight.
In December, Christophe Castaner, Macron’s junior minister for parliamentary relations, asked Anglade to set up a task force with citizens and members of the French parliament to prepare the 2019 European Parliament election.
In a press conference in January, Castaner said En Marche was not seeking to create a group in the European Parliament. Instead, the party would prepare for the 2019 election “as we have done in France.”
“En Marche could either be integrated to the existing landscape or we put together something new” — Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade
The puzzle Anglade has been asked to crack is to find the best way to provide Macron with a bloc of MEPs that would support his reforms.
Anglade is still in the process of setting up his task force. In the meantime, he has been speaking to Guy Verhofstadt, the president of the liberal ALDE group, as well as members of several EU political parties like Momentum in Hungary and Progressive Slovakia. And he’s in close contact with members of Ciudadanos, the liberal Spanish party that has pushed its way to the top of the polls.
The French president’s ambition, says Anglade, is to do to Brussels what he did to Paris — not to join an existing power structure, but to take the city by storm from the outside. The plan is to use the 2019 election to launch a European debate, using a series of “national consultations” to stir up support for a pro-EU slate of candidates running on an anti-populist platform.
As part of that effort, Anglade is exploring ways to create the largest possible pro-European list, coming together around issues like the rule of law, gender equality, and freedom of the press. “En Marche could either be integrated to the existing landscape,” Anglade said, “or we put together something new.”
That might mean luring away candidates from existing groups like ALDE, the Socialists or the conservatives, as Macron did in France. Or it could mean running under an alternate banner with the intention of teaming up with like-minded groupings after the election, Parliament sources said.
One of the most likely scenarios, Parliament sources say, would be to create a new pro-EU, centrist political group that could include candidates who ran under Macron’s banner along with members of ALDE and defectors from other groups.
Another possibility would be to seek out a rapprochement with the conservative European People’s Party, currently the largest group in Parliament. “Our approach will be to talk to everybody, without a priori and without excluding anyone,” said Anglade.
This approach explains the importance Macron has placed on the creation of transnational lists of candidates that would be elected with votes from across the Continent — an early battle he now looks likely to lose after Parliament rejected the idea this week. Pan-European contests would have fostered a Continent-wide debate and arguably favored a pro-EU force.
It also helps explain why Macron has been cold toward the Spitzenkandidat process for choosing the Commission president, in which groups vying for seats in the European Parliament put forward candidates for the office. Officials close to Macron say the process would guarantee a victory for a big, traditional party — and leave a newly created political force without a voice in the selection of the most powerful official in Brussels.
Many members of the Parliament, particularly in ALDE and among Socialists, say Macron’s chances of building a pro-EU force are high. The French president is popular in Brussels, as are his proposals for expanding the power of the EU.
“Anglade’s mission is completely unrealistic. Where is Macron going to find people outside ALDE?” — EPP official
Members of ALDE, the fourth largest party in Parliament, far behind the Socialists and conservatives, would be expected to welcome a fresh injection of support from the French president. “Anglade’s mission is an excellent idea because it would move the center of gravity in this assembly,” said Gérard Deprez, a Belgian member of ALDE. “We need to have a reinforced, pro-European force.”
Telička, who is also one of the Parliament’s vice presidents, told POLITICO that he and Macron “don’t agree on everything … But I believe ALDE and pro-Macron forces will operate a rapprochement because everyone will understand that there’s no interest in fragmentation.”
Reaching out to the conservative European People’s Party, the largest group in Parliament, won’t be so easy. Its members say they fear being affiliated to a movement that has not yet proved its own worth in France.
“Anglade’s mission is completely unrealistic,” said an official from the EPP. “Where is Macron going to find people outside ALDE? … Who would quit the largest party in Europe without having any idea about the future of such a group?”
If Macron decides to form his own political force, he will need to find at least 25 MEPs from seven different nationalities to be able to form an official group in the chamber.
“Macron will certainly get the 25 MEPs he needs without problem,” said Charles de Marcilly, the head of the Brussels office of the French think tank Fondation Robert Schuman. “The question is, will he be able to form a group that is not too weak?”
“He would look bad if he had only 40 MEPs,” de Marcilly added.