Macron makes US State of the Union-style speech

French president emphasises Europe and fighting exclusion in first major address

Emmanuel Macron walks through the Galerie des Bustes  at the Château de Versailles on his way to address the joint houses of the French parliament, on Monday. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/Reuters

Emmanuel Macron walks through the Galerie des Bustes at the Château de Versailles on his way to address the joint houses of the French parliament, on Monday. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/Reuters

 

President Emmanuel Macron spoke repeatedly of the need for meaning in a dense and philosophical 90-minute address to the joint houses of the French parliament at the Château de Versailles on Monday.

Macron modelled the first major speech of his term in office on the US president’s State of the Union address. He promised to make it an annual event.

Stéphane Peu, a communist deputy who boycotted the ceremony, said he was demonstrating in the streets of Versailles “to tell Macron we don’t want this American-style governance that tramples on French institutions”.

When they elected him, “the French made the choice of a country that goes forward, that finds new hope and optimism”, Macron said.

He admitted it would not be easy. “At present, we experience the enthusiasm of beginnings, but grave circumstances prevent it from going to our heads. The hardness of life is there for so many of our citizens.”

The most pro-European French president since Giscard d’Estaing in the 1970s, Macron said he wanted France “to find again the first breath of European engagement.”

He felt Europe lost its way when it was diverted from its original political purpose. “European construction is undermined by bureaucracy,” Macron said. “I believe firmly in Europe, but scepticism is not always unjustified.”

Based on work he has started with German chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron promised to launch “democratic conventions” throughout the union before the end of this year.

Brexit

Any inclination to pull back from Europe in the face of divisions and Brexit would be “a stuttering of history. To neglect Europe would be to abdicate our history and diminish France,” he said.

The far left deputy and leader of France Unbowed, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who boycotted Macron’s speech, described it as a “mortally boring… interminable shower of truisms… fake marble, overplayed Bonapartism and bleating Europism”.

The French president listed the institutional reforms he intends to carry out: to reduce the number of deputies and senators by one third; a degree of proportional representation; the transformation of the lacklustre Economic, Social and Environment Council into a “great consultative body” to serve as a bridge between French society and politicians.

He promised to abolish the Court of Justice of the Republic, the special jurisdiction that tries high-ranking government officials, most recently Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund.

More than a third of the 900 deputies and senators who listened to the speech owe their positions to Macron. It was not clear if Macron would call an early election to reduce the Assembly elected on June 18th.

In the only joke of his speech, the president told prime minister Edouard Philippe, who will deliver his general policy address to the National Assembly on Wednesday, “France is not a country that reforms itself... Forgive me for telling you this bad news. France is a country that resists a long time, that bridles when it is not respected, when one does not speak to its dignity and intelligence.”

Big finance

Macron is portrayed by opponents as a tool of big finance. But he spoke repeatedly of the need to fight poverty and exclusion. “There will be no French success if everyone does not find his or her place,” he said. This was the goal of the reforms that parliament will vote. “Too many of our citizens feel they are prisoners of their social origins, of their conditions,” he said. He alluded to those living in enclaves without access to transport.

Macron promised to lift the state of emergency in the autumn, nearly two years after it was declared by his predecessor, in the wake of jihadist attacks that killed 130 people. “These liberties are the condition of a strong democracy,” he said. “The criminal code and the power of magistrates are sufficient for us to wipe out our enemies.” He nonetheless said that parliament could “vote new measures that strengthen our liberties”.

Macron repeatedly used the word “threats”, as when he said, “This world is dangerous, with an accumulation of threats. A global explosion is no longer the spectre raised by pessimists, but is becoming a reality.”

Opposition was not only in parliament or in the streets, Macron warned. It was also “in our heads” because “a cynic sleeps in each one of us. And it is up to each of us to silence him, day after day.” If the French succeeded, “we will remain faithful to the promise of our beginnings, the most beautiful promise: to make for man, at last, a country that is worthy of him”.