Macron makes his mark in debut on world stage

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On a sun-kissed terrace overlooking the sea, the image of Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau staring into each other’s eyes had social media swooning over the budding bromance between the two young leaders at the Group of Seven in Sicily.

Just 24 hours earlier in Brussels, Macron had crushed Donald Trump’s hand until his knuckles turned white and walked past the U.S. president to embrace German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the blue NATO welcome carpet.

At his debut on the world stage, the new French president revealed a steeliness that belies his 39 years and relative inexperience. There was the power play with Trump when during the war of handshakes he spoke at some length in French with no translator. He then spoke English with Theresa May, offering co-operation in light of the U.K. terror attack, while not ceding an inch on the prime minister’s request for parallel Brexit talks.

To be sure, Macron remains firmly in his honeymoon period and has a raft of challenges ahead — he leads a country divided and drew much of his support from voters looking to stop Marine Le Pen. He’s inheriting an unemployment rate roughly double that of the U.K. and Germany, an economy that has lagged the euro-area average for three years and will need to cobble together some kind of majority after parliamentary elections next month.

Nonetheless, for Macron, three days of hanging out with many of the world’s most influential players helped set the style and tone for his five-year presidency.

At a round table in a former monastery, six leaders argued with Trump on trade and climate change, with Macron particularly adamant that there could be no diluting of the Paris Agreement to accommodate the Americans. They left it that Trump would take, as the host Paolo Gentiloni put it, some time for “internal reflection” before making a decision.

Macron appeared to form a special bond with Trudeau, with television cameras lingering on the two Generation Xers strolling down the hill conversing in French while Trump, at 70 the oldest G7 leader, stayed behind to wait for a golf cart to give him a lift through the narrow cobbled streets.

“Justin has been inspiring,” Macron said on Friday as the pair met for the first time since his election victory this month. “We belong to a generation of leaders that will deeply renew practices and a vision of global affairs.”

Trudeau, 45, said he was excited to have “someone even younger and more dynamic than me who joined the G7 table.” TV footage captured snippets of them chatting about kids: Trudeau is a father of three while Macron spoke of the grandchildren of his wife Brigitte Macron. Trudeau’s multi-coloured striped socks were a contrast to Macron’s more conventional navy blue.

On meeting Japan’s Shinzo Abe, Macron engaged in some masculine eye-locking, while with May he settled into a workmanlike relationship. The two had already met in London when he was still campaigning and she had yet to call a snap election. On Brexit, he and Merkel fell in lockstep: first comes the divorce, and then talks on the rest.

Macron has said in the run-up to assuming power that his plan was to restore the image of the French presidency, without adding that his two predecessors tarnished it.

He has made clear through his team of loyal and tight-lipped aides, that he would be doing little talking to the press, who were not invited to travel with him on the presidential jet. Nicolas Sarkozy, nicknamed president Bling-Bling for his extravagant private life, was very talkative while François Hollande enjoyed gossiping with his favourite reporters.

More will be revealed in coming weeks about who Macron is after he broke the rules of French politics to form his own movement as an underdog candidate. On his return home, he will host Russia’s Vladimir Putin Monday at the Versailles Palace.