An opposition and media outcry over President Emmanuel Macron’s scheduled address to the two house of the French parliament at the Château de Versailles on Monday may be a case of begrudgery.
It will be Macron's second presidential appearance in Louis XIV's palace, where he received Russian president Vladimir Putin on May 29th.
France’s youngest leader since Napoleon is being called a monarch, pharaoh, Jupiter, Zeus and Macron XIV.
Following his election on May 7th, Macron secured an absolute majority in the National Assembly and filled his cabinet with little-known politicians and private sector technocrats who will not contradict him. He placed loyalists at the head of the National Assembly and his La République En Marche (LREM) parliamentary group. The party's deputies this week obtained the presidency of six of eight parliamentary commissions.
So much power may have gone to Macron’s head. Or he may simply want to prove his authority. During the campaign, many questioned the ability of a 38-year-old with little political experience to embody the nation.
The French president also wants to distance himself from the "normal" presidency of his predecessor. As Le Monde pointed out, François Hollande had his official photograph taken at the bottom of the Élysée garden, as if he wanted to flee the palace.
Macron's photo, which will soon hang in all government buildings, shows him standing with his back to an open window, clutching the edge of the desk where he intends to take decisions and sign decrees. "He seems to be saying, 'Over my dead body,'" observes the former cabinet minister Thierry Mandon, who also notes a resemblance to Barack Obama's 2009 official photograph.
The speech in Versailles appears to be modelled on the annual State of the Union address by the US president. Just before 3pm on Monday, flanked by the republican guard, Macron will repeat the slow, theatrical walk he made across the courtyard of the Louvre on election night. Drums will roll. Hundreds of French parliamentarians will stand to attention as Macron mounts the steps to the podium. The president will explain his philosophy of government and his goals for the next five years.
Twenty-four hours later, the prime minister, Edouard Philippe, will deliver his general policy speech before the National Assembly in Paris. Philippe had already found it difficult to stay in the public eye. Now Macron will render his big day irrelevant. Commentators called it humiliation.
France’s new president is reported to distrust intensely the journalists who said he could never be elected, criticised his celebration at La Rotonde brasserie after his first round victory and then predicted he could never win a parliamentary majority.
Macron always said the presidential word should be reserved for rare occasions.
"From the summit of the state, on high, the young god of gods sees everything, can do everything and decides everything," Laurent Joffrin, director of Libération newspaper writes. "He expresses himself rarely and always in a hierarchical manner... denying the poor mortals of the press the right to address themselves directly to him."
Because Macron's cabinet ministers and advisers have been banned from speaking to journalists, the press is poorly informed. The Élysée announced Macron would forego the traditional televised interview on Bastille Day. He will be otherwise engaged, celebrating the centenary of the US intervention in the first World War with Donald Trump.
The journalistic question-and-answer format was ill-adapted to the “complexity” of presidential thought, the palace explained.
The most scathing reaction to the planned Versailles address has come from the far left. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, erstwhile presidential candidate, leader of France Unbowed and a newly minted deputy in the National Assembly, will boycott the ceremony, instead taking his followers to the Place de la République.
“Since we are summoned to hear the presidential monarch, we are rebelling,” Mélenchon explained.
In further echoes of 1789, the Communist Party said its parliamentarians would not go "to Versailles to anoint the presidential monarch". It called for the Third Estate, as commoners were called under the ancien régime, to demonstrate in front of Versailles town hall.
Macron's defenders note that a 2008 constitutional revision allows the president to address the joint houses of parliament. Macron's is only the third such speech since Napoleon, after Nicolas Sarkozy in 2009 and François Hollande following the November 13th, 2015, attacks that killed 130 people.
Macron’s popularity has been unaffected by his monarchical ways. An Odoxa poll published on Thursday shows 62 per cent approve of his communication strategy, while 68 per cent believe he is right to upstage Philippe, the prime minister, in Versailles.