Staff writer Fred Taylor interviews French politician and KCL alumnus Alexandre Holroyd.
Alexandre Holroyd is the French Assembly Member (a Deputy, or MP) for Northern Europe and a member of President Macron’s political party ‘Renaissance’ (previously known as ‘La Republique En Marche’, or ‘En Marche’). He studied European studies at King’s and graduated in 2009. He has been described as “London’s foremost Macronista”.
He grew up in the UK with an English father and French mother, but attended a French school. Following university he worked in business consultancy in Brussels, and then in London. It was only after the Brexit referendum that he entered politics. He describes himself as “feeling European“, saying that the emotional impact of the result “really broke something” for him. He answered this ‘call’ into politics, saying that he would never “forgive himself for just sitting on the sidelines”. So he left his job and joined Macron’s newly formed political movement.
In 2017, Macron won the presidential election by 21 points and his party won 350 seats in the National Assembly, a 61 seat majority. Alexandre Holroyd occupied one of those seats. He was elected in one of France’s eleven constituencies for citizens abroad, specifically for Northern Europe. He has held the seat since 2017, and won his last election, in 2022, by 12 points. His constituency spans 10 northern European countries, including the UK, Ireland and some Nordic and Baltic countries. His constituents are the French citizens of these areas.
Before his election, he described France’s political system as being completely broken, needing deep reform. He said that people saw French politics as being useless at policy, as the “political class has more or less consistently put party interests in front of country interests”. He believed Macron was an “enormous source of pride and hope” who would fix the political system, fix high unemployment and fix low growth. He is still a keen member of the Renaissance party.
Youth and Time at King’s College London
Roar: Your Mother was French but your father was English, what was the predominant culture in your household?
Alexandre Holroyd: I was in the UK but in a French school. In the household, it was completely French, except with the English side of my family, but on a day-to-day basis, it was French.
R: What was it like being brought up between two cultures?
AH: I think I was very lucky, it is a great source of wealth because you learn to see things from two different angles. France and the UK are relatively close in terms of culture, but they have their differences. Being able to live across 2 communities in a world which is increasingly globalised is an asset.
R: Were you also able to experience that cultural richness at King’s?
AH: Yes, one of the reasons I think I was very keen to go to a British university, and particularly to King’s, was the diversity in the student body. King’s was a fantastic university and the studies were great, but I’d argue that I learnt just as much through interaction with fellow students as with formal teaching at university. The ability to have day-to-day conversations with people coming from various walks of life, and various countries, enabled me, and everybody at King’s, to have a much richer view of the world than you would have in a fully national environment.
R: Nowadays you have constituents across 10 countries. Has this international perspective enabled you to understand the point of view of a French citizen from Finland or Estonia, for instance, with greater ease?
AH: I would go further. It has helped me in general in the professional world. I worked in a consultancy firm where you get to meet a lot of different people from a lot of different companies and countries, and from the get-go, this international perspective was an asset. To be able to analyse problems not only from an intellectual standpoint but also from one which takes into account cultural differences is a huge advantage, whatever you do in the world. That was the case in the private sector and is obviously the case today. As an MP with constituents living across countries, I meet with French citizens but also with local and European MPs. The ability to understand the perspective of a Finnish MP, an Estonian MP, of a Danish or Swedish MP, is obviously very important.
R: What advice would you give King’s students to be successful in life, in their careers, and maybe to become an MP in future?
AH: From my experience, and this is going to sound very cheesy, you have to do something that you enjoy. That is the first element that will make you perform in anything that you do, and which will get you to be able to deal with the downsides of any job. If you are not convinced that you like what you are doing you are going to find it difficult to commit fully to your work.
And the truth is, you have time to find out what you are passionate about. We as a generation, and I am putting myself in the same bracket as you, are probably going to work longer than previous generations because we are going to live longer. And so, there is no absolute urgency to know what you want to do with the rest of your life when you graduate. Any decision you do take is not a terminal decision, you have a lot of opportunities to change in the future.
However, it is very important to take a bit of time to figure out at the beginning: is this really what I want to do for the foreseeable future? Am I ready to commit to this? Because while you have a lot of opportunity to change, it obviously gets more difficult as you grow older. I have seen a lot of people who have gone out of very good universities and have joined the private sector, or the public sector. And, after 5 or 6 years they have decided that it really wasn’t what they wanted to do, and changed career paths, and that is completely fine. But you always wonder if it would have been better if they had spent the first two years figuring out what they wanted to do, rather than wait 5, 6, or 7 years to do it.
R: What did you do postgraduation? Why did you not pursue further studies?
AH: When I graduated I had no idea of what I was going to do in my life. I had a lot of friends who went and did Masters [degrees], and I decided that I wanted to travel a bit so I took a few months off and went travelling. When I came back, I decided I wanted to start working immediately.
I was just always puzzled by the fact that a lot of people were doing masters not because of a sense of they wanted to further their particular knowledge of a particular subject but just because they felt it was a compulsory thing to do. It is quite expensive to do a Masters and I’ve always thought that one should be quite convinced that this is a subject he wants to deep dive into before doing one.
Populism and its future
R: Populism on the right saw a rise in the last French elections, with Le Pen getting 44% of the vote. How do you go about defeating populism?
AH: It is a very difficult question. If you have a perfect answer, I would be very happy to take it. I think the fundamental point is that the best way to address those voters who have reasonable concerns, which are not being met by non-populists, and so, try to find answers from these extremist parties, is not through political strategy. All the political strategies in the world have been tried now in France, but also in Germany, Denmark, in the UK, the US and eventually they do not work.
The truth is that there is a part of our society which is hurting and has been hurting for the last 20, 30 years due to less access to public services, less access to the labour market, less access to opportunities… and we have relied too much on political strategy to try and satisfy those constituents rather than focusing on finding real answers for their daily problems.
It is only once we find those answers, once we get public services back in those communities, once we get hope back in those communities, that we will get them to reconsider non-populist options.
R: Has Macron given these “proper answers” over the last 5 years?
AH: Yes, he has. Obviously, it is a much more difficult exercise to try and change the fundamental structure of our society than just changing political strategy.
Since I was born, the most important issue in France has been unemployment. We were an outlier in Europe, we had structural unemployment at around 10% for the better part of three decades. That leaves huge traces on society. However, in the last five years, unemployment has been coming down. It is coming down structurally by almost 2 points.
AH: The objective is to reintegrate society properly. Evidently, this will take time. When, for instance, you create a future-proof factory in a deprived area, then you really create a huge opportunity for the local community to come out of decades of impoverishment. But the creation of that factory requires huge changes to the tax system, huge changes to the labour system etc. and then it requires other investments to come and build the factory. We are talking about changes that will provoke positive consequences in decades, not in years.
Same thing at the education level. One of the first things that we did when we came into power was to reduce the size of classes in poorer areas in France by 2. There are a lot of studies that show that teaching improves dramatically when you reduce the size of a class of kids who are 6 or 7 years old, as this is the point where, if you lose kids, they find it very difficult to catch up later in life, especially in deprived areas. It is a fantastic measure, but objectively, its result will only be seen in years, when those kids grow up and enter the labour market.
This is the problem with the political strategy and why the political strategy in the last decades has always been the first point of call for politicians. Political strategy and speech-making has a much quicker effect than long-term structural changes. But only long-term structural changes provide the fundamental answers that we need. There is no amount of strategy-making which is going to deal with those real issues.
R: You talked recently in the National Assembly about “the unalterable link which unites France to the United Kingdom”. How can the UK and France build a long-term relationship in future?
AH: First thing is that we have a very long-term relationship. I think when we come to relationships between France and the UK. Public discourse focuses on the last 6 months, the last year, the last 3 years. But when it comes down to it our countries have been side to side in conflicts large and small for the better part of the last 200 years.
The fundamental point is that we share values: we share a perception of the world based on the international rule of law, human rights and so forth. That makes us siblings for the future because the fact is that those values and that perception of the world are not universal. In fact, the vast majority of the world does not share them. If I look at what is going to happen in the next 80-100 years and the way you can see our countries evolving, we either get together and manage to defend and carry those values with a common voice, or we will fail to try and push them for our future.
The fundamental truth is that we absolutely need each other. We need each other on this very long-term perspective and we need each other because of the challenges that we face very practically today if you think for instance about one of the most talked about issues, which is migration in the channel. There is no solution if we do not work together.
R: One of your objectives as an Assembly Member is to enable and strengthen French language schooling. What are the objectives of this?
AH: I think that there is a dual objective to French schooling abroad. One objective is to ensure that any French person abroad can maintain their link, or their family’s link, or their children’s link with the country and with the language. The second objective is to offer an educational system that enables people from third countries to learn about the French language and culture. When I was at school, I would say that 30-40% of the students were not French. Their parents had chosen to put them in a French school because it was a good education with an international element to it.
We have a very diverse network of French schools abroad which are open to everyone. I think it is very important to the state that we maintain the links that we have to nationals abroad. It is also very important that we continue to support the development of the French language across the world.
R: Is that part of a broader project to ensure that the cultural richness present in Europe is there for everyone to experience?
AH: Yes, although I would go further than Europe. I think that it is very important that we maintain French schools in China, Japan, Indonesia, the US and Colombia. This is a key part of foreign policy and influential policy. Having millions of people across the world being educated in French schools, learning French and French culture is obviously an element of soft power. That is why the French network was developed on top of fulfilling a public service for the French who live abroad.
So those dual objectives come hand-in-hand and mean that the French government, arguably more than any other government proportionate to GDP, spends a considerable amount of its resources maintaining that network of French schools across the world.
Roar News thanks French Deputy Alexandre Holroyd and Parliamentary Assistant Melissa Amroun for their time.