Emmanuel Macron: more popular for his handshake than his policy?

Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to France on Monday to hold talks with Emmanuel Macron, who won the recent presidential election in France despite Russian support for his opponent.

During Putin's visit to France, President Macron said they had a "frank and direct exchange”.

Macron warned Putin that chemical weapons in Syria were a "red line" for France, and that he would continue to monitor civil rights violations of gay and transgender people in Chechnya.

But the two said they did not privately discuss reports of Russian meddling in last month's French elections, including an 11th-hour cyberattack on Macron's campaign.

But what interested people the most was their handshake. Indeed, after running circles around Trump, the world wanted to know how Macron would deal with Vladimir Putin?

Brutal handshake, jailhouse stare, tough-guy shoulder slap? No, none of the above, because the French president knew it’s not a good idea to try the same trick on two tough-guy world leaders in less than a week. His handshake with Putin was a surprisingly symmetrical affair, with both leaders gripping each other’s hands and patting shoulders at the same height, for the same amount of time. 

Journalists scrambled for descriptive words: Was it “hearty” or “warm”? Was it “firm” or “insistent”? The answer was “just about right.” Macron pulled off normalcy in his first public moment with Putin. Which was an achievement in itself, because it neutralized Putin’s toughness.

This was another test for France’s newcomer to international affairs.

Despite his polished, smooth-talking approach to politics, the 39-year-old is quickly imposing himself as an updated version of the global strongman: one who reels in his rivals with charm, only to level them when the time is right.

Is it true that the image he returns to the rest of the world is important and he must impose a certain charisma and a strength of character to be respected. However, I have the impression that each of their appearance is only a part of a marketing campaign without any good ideas underneath… Until now, everything looks a bit fake. Only the time will tell us if I was wrong or not.

Let’s not forget that he benefited from the fact that the candidates of Les R├ępublicains and the Parti Socialiste were deeply unpopular and because his opponent in the second round, Marine Le Pen, was from the extreme right, Macron suddenly seemed a perfect candidate for liberal and conservative forces to "save" the Republic from the National Front's extremist-populist threat. Macron happened to be in the right place at the right time, while candidates of the traditional parties were failing. Someone needed to fill that void, and along came Macron, a young and ambitious supposed outsider, who's still completely and safely part of the system. The marketing campaign around him gave him the fashionable air of being neither left nor right.