EU agrees to move ahead on using Russian assets for Ukraine

LONDON: The teeth clench. The brow furrows. The bicep bulges.
In moody black and white, photos of French President Emmanuel Macron pounding a punching bag arched eyebrows across Europe on Thursday after his official photographer posted them to social media in what was widely received as the latest round in his drive to toughen up the region’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But reviews were mixed along political lines. Some in France said Macron, who is 46, looked like a “warrior” and likened him to movie heroes like Rocky Balboa and Robert DeNiro’s character in “Raging Bull.”
Across the English Channel, reviews of “macho Macron” were less flattering. “Macron: Le grand narcissist,” groused the Daily Mail. And Daniel Johnson in the Telegraph called him “a prancing poseur”: “Past presidents like Resistance hero General de Gaulle felt no need to show off.”
Macron’s office said it would not comment on the photos. But the images were interpreted by many on social media as reflecting his pressure on other Western countries to more strongly defend Ukraine as the war enters its third year. Last month, he said the possibility of Western troops being sent to Ukraine could not be ruled out, a comment that prompted an outcry from other leaders.
Political history is filled with leaders using visuals to display toughness, virility and strength.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, famously posed shirtless on a horse and was recorded apparently showing off his judo skills. The United States had cowboys Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, ranch owners in California and Texas respectively, who were widely photographed wearing cowboy hats and boots and sometimes riding horses.
Public flexing doesn’t always go as planned. The same week British prime minister Boris Johnson lost control of Parliament in 2019, he struggled to lead a live bull on camera during an event in Scotland. The animal ended up knocking into a police officer. Another time during a game of street rugby with children in Japan, Johnson knocked down a 10-year-old.
Macron, for his part, was one half of a handshake showdown with former President Donald Trump in Brussels in 2017. In front of photographers, the two locked eyes, gripped hands — and didn’t let go even as their knuckles turned white. The handshake-averse Trump at one point seemed ready to pull away. But Macron wasn’t. He held on a few seconds more. The men’s jaws seemed to clench.
“My handshake with him, it wasn’t innocent,” Macron later told Le Journal du Dimanche. It was “a moment of truth,” he said, adding: “One must show that you won’t make small concessions, even symbolic ones, but also not overpublicize things, either.”
Macron is well aware of the power of visual content to convey messages. He is also the first French president to extensively use social media.
His official photographer, Soizig de la Moissonnière, documents his public and private daily life through photos posted on her Instagram account, with about 216,000 followers, including the ones of Macron boxing, muscles bulging through a black shirt. Macron once said he was personally approving the photos to be posted there.
Valerie Doustaly, a Paris-based image consultant, said Thursday’s photos appeared aimed at communicating a feeling about Macron’s “lifestyle and personal life, which is increasingly important for any profession, even for the role of a president.”
“There is a clear strategy to show the health, youth and strength of someone who chooses boxing as a sport,” Doustaly said. “President Macron takes care of his image with perseverance, he always takes care of his look, his evolving hairstyle, and now surprises us with a T-shirt that shows his flexed biceps.”
Since Macron was elected in 2017, he has seized many occasions to show his athletic skills. He has held multiple events meant to promote the Paris Olympics and last year described sports as conveying “values of respect, effort, equality, healthy living, surpassing oneself.” Last month, Macron promised to swim in the River Seine, which is being cleaned up for the Paris Olympics laster this year.
In January, he launched the 200-day countdown for the Olympics with a video posted on his social media, appearing in a sport T-shirt next to a punching bag with boxing gloves on his shoulder and sweat on his face.
Brigitte Macron said in a November interview with Paris Match that the French president does boxing training twice a week. It’s a sport he is said to practice with some of the officers in charge of his security. Macron was also seen boxing during a campaign event in the northern suburbs of Paris in April 2022, just before being reelected for a second term.

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