INVESTIGATION – Emmanuel Macron leads the state with a handful of advisers and collaborators at the Elysée, who call themselves “the Mormons”. Among them: the shock tandem, Alexis Kohler and Ismaël Emelien. Secret men with assumed commando methods.
Without their green light, nothing is possible. They reread everything, decide on everything, block what bothers them, interfere everywhere…” This confidence from an important minister says a lot about the current power of a very small circle of Emmanuel Macron's collaborators. Since his arrival at the Elysée Palace on May 14, the president has indeed surrounded himself with a close guard of faithful followers, the only ones he really trusts and with whom he works intensively day and night, generally in the good humor, but often until 3 am, at the risk of exhausting them. Some were his collaborators at Bercy. They supported him in the En Marche! adventure. They organized his presidential campaign. Nothing abnormal that the newly elected chose them to hold the reins of the state with him and carry out the promised “transformations” – the word “reform” is banned from Macronian language – at no charge.
More weight than members of the government
But the lockdown is complete, in the hands of a dozen people who matter and who sometimes call each other, jokingly, “the Mormons”, not to say the soldier monks or the elect of God. They are under the rule of the President who locks everything with his two main traveling companions and collaborators: his right arm Alexis Kohler, 45, secretary general of the Elysée, and his left arm Ismaël Emelien, 30, who has the title of special adviser. The tall, cold-blooded tie clerk and the hip brainy strategist from Uniqlo. A duo of not very talkative eminences, who do not like the light, but who have more weight than many members of the government, and even than Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. “Everything is concentrated at the Elysée, as under Sarkozy and as often at the start of a term, but the team in charge is really very tight,” notes Julien Vaulpré, former opinion adviser to Nicolas Sarkozy and managing director of Taddeo. “In reality, the Macron-Kohler-Emelien trio rules France, comments a regular visitor to the Château. It's effective for advancing quickly, in a commando spirit. However, they work a little between them, taking the risk of appearing cut off from the world, authoritarian and too techno.
Emmanuel Macron did not choose them by chance. Fine glasses and slender look, Alexis Kohler knows the workings of the State, mainly the Ministry of the Economy. Born in Strasbourg, from a family with a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, he cultivates a discreet restraint and a certain sense of diplomacy, even if he can sometimes be brittle. "He rather embodies an open Bercy," notes one of his contacts, who appreciated his courtesy when he officiated on the spot. It is first, like Emmanuel Macron, a gifted person who has accumulated diplomas: Sciences-Po, DEA in public law, Essec and ENA. How to build strong networks. At Sciences-Po, he campaigned among young Rocardians, alongside a certain Edouard Philippe and Emmanuel Moulin, currently director of cabinet for Bruno Le Maire at Bercy. Within the Averroès promotion of the ENA, he knew in particular Fleur Pellerin and Audrey Azoulay, two former Ministers of Culture of François Hollande. Although he is not part of the caste of finance inspectors, Alexis Kohler worked in their stronghold, within the prestigious direction of the Treasury, before dealing with debt issues for the Paris Club and the International Monetary Fund. “It vaccinated him against tax increases, deficits and debts,” notes one of his Treasury comrades.
Archetypal senior civil servant with social-reformist ideas in the DSK way, he also rubbed shoulders between 2010 and 2012 with the mysteries of the business world within the State Participation Agency, which manages a portfolio of 90 billion euros. euros, two-thirds of which in listed companies, such as EDF and Renault. On an automobile file, he had the opportunity to meet a promising young banker from Rothschild, named Emmanuel Macron, who met again behind the scenes of François Hollande's campaign in 2012. When the latter was elected, Kohler became deputy director of the cabinet of Pierre Moscovici, Minister of the Economy. He regularly sees Macron, who follows economic files at the Elysée Palace as deputy secretary general. The chemistry between the two men works so well that Emmanuel Macron chooses him as chief of staff when he is appointed to Bercy in August 2014 to replace Arnaud Montebourg. There followed two years of work in a synchronized duo, without friction, to have the Macron law adopted or to negotiate with PSA. “Alexis reassures Emmanuel. It's his twin, his alter ego, his friend, ”says a former adviser to the firm.
When the Minister of the Economy decided, in the spring of 2016, to launch En Marche! with the presidential election in sight, Alexis Kohler is part of the first circle of insiders, with other members of the cabinet such as Ismaël Emelien, Julien Denormandie, Quentin Lafay, Stéphane Séjourné, Clément Beaune, Sibeth Ndiaye, Barbara Frugier, all members of his bodyguard today. At the end of August 2016, Macron resigned from Bercy, quoting his main collaborator during his speech: “Thanks to […] Alexis Kohler, who, for a little over two years, with extreme dedication and an intelligence that I envy, m 'accompanied." A rare compliment. “He is the only person whom Macron says is smarter than him,” confirms one of his relatives.
Macron-Kohler, a tandem "as effective as it is inseparable"
Active at the start of the campaign, Alexis Kohler left to slip into the private sector as director
financier of MSC, the Swiss-Italian shipping giant. "He only made a quick visit to us, without fuss, from mid-November 2016 to May 2017," says one at MSC. But, between Geneva and Paris, he continues to supervise, at night and on weekends, the organization of the team and the development of the candidate's program. With sharp opinions. Is a VAT hike planned? He much prefers the CSG. Do we promise unemployment benefits to those who quit? “Costly and not central measure”, he believes. Do we want to reduce unemployment? “The main thing is to know if the French are actually convinced that poor workers are better than well-compensated unemployed people,” he wrote in an e-mail dated November 29, 2016 to Ismaël Emelien. He also recommends making a speech "where we will put public and private investment with the reform of capital taxation (this will make a nice left-right package)". Kohler plays politics! And when the teams draw up a document to praise Macron's balance sheet at Bercy, the former "dircab" corrects: it is necessary, according to him, to add the overhaul of the nuclear sector, the effort on payment deadlines for companies, the defense of French industry, the revival of European investment, among others. Meticulous!
His exchanges with Emmanuel Macron are then daily, his proximity proven. “The tandem is as effective as it is inseparable,” observes Jean-Jacques Bridey, one of the first elected Socialist members who rallied, who became chairman of the Defense Committee in the Assembly. The appointment of Alexis Kohler as secretary general of the Elysée in May 2017 is natural. Just like the arrival of Ismaël Emelien as special adviser at his side. His itinerary has nothing to do with that of a high official. It is rather out of frame. Music lover, bookworm, compulsive worker. Capable of brilliant syntheses, offbeat ideas and long silences. “A silent cerebral, liberal tendency”, sums up one of his friends. The eldest of a Grenoble family, he plunged into politics from his student years at Sciences-Po. He was then part of what the ex-strauss-kahniens called "the band of the rue de La Planche", the place where young supporters of DSK gathered from 2006, with in particular Gilles Finchelstein, director of the Jean-Jaurès Foundation. and research specialist at Euro RSCG. Blessed period. Finchelstein then engages Emelien at his side in the com box headed by the influential Stéphane Fouks, ready to put the presidential DSK into orbit. The latter's arrest in New York on May 14, 2011 showers the ambitions of the former minister's fans. “Ishmael did not expect it at all. He took it very badly,” says one of his friends. He continued his career at Euro RSCG, now Havas, providing communication for large groups and politicians, including when he went to Caracas in 2013 to participate in the beginnings of Nicolás Maduro's campaign, dictatorial successor to Chávez.
Ismaël Emelien, strategist for the creation of En Marche!
He is still looking for a mentor in France. Emmanuel Macron fills this void from 2012. The deputy secretary general of the Elysée then organizes dinners to exchange ideas, in which Gilles Finchelstein and Ismaël Emelien take part, who says he is impressed by the intellectual agility of the ex-banker business. With Macron, they dream in early 2014 of creating a start-up, without having the time. Became Minister of the Economy during the summer, Macron embarks the communicator in his luggage at Bercy. This encourages his minister to "speak the truth" and to assume his liberal law on regulated professions. Ismaël Emelien stands out as the strategist for the creation of En Marche! and like an eminence grise of the candidate's soft campaign, "at the same time" left and right. He follows the winner rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré to occupy a position with poorly defined contours, which makes him like advisers such as Aquilino Morelle for François Hollande and Henri Guaino for Nicolas Sarkozy. "These are anti-models for him, because they have come out of the shadows", we nuance in his entourage. Ismaël Emelien, he prefers to remain discreet, refusing any contact with journalists because an adviser, in his eyes, should not exist. His influence on the "Boss" is no less real, just like that of the general-in-chief Alexis Kohler.
The division of roles is clear. In Alexis, the central role of the manager: in an office close to that of the President, located on the first floor of the Elysée, he directs the control tower of power, like a Dominique de Villepin under Chirac, d 'a Claude Guéant with Sarkozy or a Jean-Pierre Jouyet at the beginning of Holland. In Ishmael, the post of scout, as a lookout for macronism: installed under the roofs of the Palace, he is responsible for strategic thinking, opinion studies and the search for new ideas or shocking formulas, like the famous "Make our planet great again!launched by Macron after Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.
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The machine is oiled. It runs at full speed. From 8:30 a.m. until 3 a.m. the next morning, the two men and their "Mormons" are on deck. For Ismaël Emelien: reading of opinion studies, requests for notes from outside consultants, discreet appointments with the pollsters, participation in all the important meetings at the Château, diving into the platforms of the movement of La République en Marche ( LREM), drafting of political summaries, daily exchanges with the President. "It's rare for him to make a decision without consulting Ishmael," they say in the team. For Kohler, the meetings are also linked without stopping: multi-daily contacts with the Prime Minister's chief of staff; "strategic" points each week with close guards on the President's agenda and in the medium term; organization of meetings with the Chairman, including weekly meetings with Jean-Yves Le Drian, Gérard Collomb, Bruno Le Maire and Florence Parly; preparations for Defense Councils and Councils of Ministers; bimonthly meeting with the fifty advisers of the Elysée. Without forgetting many other thematic briefings and the rereading of hundreds of notes from all floors of the Palace and elsewhere. “Not a document is transmitted to the President without having passed through Alexis”, specifies one at the Elysée. To carry out all these tasks, he relies on the prefect Patrick Strzoda, director of the President's cabinet, who follows in particular the sovereign files, and on the deputy secretary general, Anne de Bayser: it is her, for example, who monitored the industrial file of the tough negotiations with the MSC group, former employer of Kohler, for the round table of STX shipyards.
The President's tempo is infernal. After having dinner with his wife, Brigitte, always very present, he resumes working between 23 p.m. and 3 a.m. with his lieutenants and sleeps only three or four hours a night. The rhythm is also so sustained that Alexis Kohler, married to a passionate theater coach and father of three children, struggles to follow. "When I leave at 3 a.m., I'm tired the next day," said this heavy sleeper to those around him. Sign of a slight overwork: according to concordant sources, the secretary general, yet reputed to be tireless at Bercy, has already suffered several strokes since his arrival at the Elysée.
But that does not prevent him, with Ismaël Emelien, from implacably implementing the imperium desired by the President. “They hold the state, but they are cold monsters, with brutal methods”, murmurs a leader of the majority. The shooting of certain big socialist pundits or LR in the legislative elections and the rescue of Manuel Valls were methodically organized by the Macron-Kohler-Emelien trio, as was the departure of the government of Richard Ferrand, François Bayrou, Marielle de Sarnez and Sylvie Goulard before the summer. Last of their missions: the parachuting of Christophe Castaner at the head of the presidential movement LREM and the consequent government reshuffle.
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A single slogan mobilizes the President's men who may seem as chilling as the spin doctors of the series The West Wing : carry out the first reforms at full speed and roll out the program, whatever the cost. The weak mobilization against the ordinances on the right to work seems to have reassured the executive on the procedure used. “They apply what was planned. This is the right method and Edouard Philippe is playing the dialogue card, ”said Franck Riester, president of the Les Constructifs group at the Assembly. "They are open to discussion, they can change course, but they only have one line, that of loyalty to the program and efficiency," adds a consultant who sees them regularly. Too bad if the image of "President of the rich" remains attached to the coattails of the newly elected, or if criticism of the lack of proximity and a certain arrogance begin to emerge in public opinion. "He impresses more than he is loved," admits one of his fans. “When he wets his shirt on the pitch in Saint-Martin, he scores points. But when he leaves the finance inspectors to manage the business, the coldness takes over”, adds a communication expert who observes him closely. “It was first necessary that the President reincarnates the function, one pleads with the Elysée. And now, the important thing is to stay the course, to put the announced program into practice, for the sake of consistency.
The trio supervises down to the smallest detail
Emmanuel Macron has indeed kept a trying memory of the procrastination of François Hollande, which still haunts him. “A counter-example,” he repeats to his troops. “He is so afraid of being compared to his predecessor that he overplays absolute determination. His true model is de Gaulle!”, Estimates a pillar of the LREM group in the Assembly. In the eyes of the Elysée trio, the blunders – in particular the summer budget planing and the sharp drop in APL, straight out of the cupboards of Bercy with the approval of Macron and Kohler – would only be epiphenomena. The distance taken with the journalists, at the beginning of the mandate, is also part of the decisions assumed by the trio, in order, it is said, to "protect the political decision". Just like the turn of the autumn: with the discreet support of Brigitte Macron, they organized the arrival at the beginning of September of a new spokesperson, the journalist Bruno Roger-Petit, who orchestrated the interview on TF1 of the October 15. Ismaël Emelien provided many notes to prepare for this performance, deemed successful by the “Boss”.
Not wanting to leave anything to chance, the trio oversees everything down to the smallest detail, putting pressure on the government, which is regularly reframed. Most of the minutes of interministerial meetings held under the authority of the Prime Minister, called the "Matignon blues" because of the color of the paper used, are now reread and annotated at the Elysée. The roadmaps of each minister have been validated by the President, who imposes very short deadlines on them to initiate the reforms, knowing, most of the time, that they are untenable. Latest example to date: the simplification of criminal procedure, announced for the spring of 2018. The timetable is difficult to keep given the headache and the rat race that are looming between the Ministry of the Interior and the Chancellery on the subject.
Another revealing detail: Macron often asks ministers to come to meetings at the Elysée without collaborators, or even written notes. “Nothing worries the President more than a minister who reads his files. They must have prepared their files, “says an insider. A cruel way, some say, to test them against him and Alexis Kohler, after having already limited the number of their employees to ten. Moreover, having chosen most of the ministers' cabinet directors himself, Alexis Kohler innovated by summoning them to the Palace each month for an "impulse meeting".
In addition, all the directors of central administration parade at the Elysée for interviews on objectives, often in the presence of the secretary general. Directives are also given to the parliamentary committees, whose elected representatives of the majority are received at length in turn each Monday evening rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré, through the adviser Stéphane Séjourné. "It's an opportunity to talk with the President about our objectives", welcomes the faithful Jean-Jacques Bridey. Last sign of this Elysian influence: the details of the 2018 draft budget were arbitrated by the Macron team, sometimes bypassing Bercy and Matignon, in a sense often more liberal than Edouard Philippe, Bruno Le Maire, Gérald Darmanin do were expecting it. "The Elysée Palace piloted the file and the Prime Minister could only adjust at the margin, in particular to demine the APL file", regrets a parliamentarian from the majority, who complains about the wall of advisers now surrounding the President , which has become less easily accessible. From their Elysian fortress, Emmanuel Macron and his "Mormons" manage France with short reins.
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Source: © The president's men: this close guard who governs France with Macron