Versailles, France | AFP | President Emmanuel Macron on Monday promised a “profound transformation” of French politics, proposing to slash by a third the number of MPs, and telling lawmakers he would call a referendum if they do not agree.
In his first address to members of the National Assembly and Senate delivered in Versailles palace, the gilded former seat of French kings, Macron said he would move fast to restore France’s “conquering spirit”.
“Until now, we were too often on the wrong track,” said the 39-year-old leader, who won office on a promise of political renewal.
“We preferred procedures to results, rules to initiative, a society where you live off inherited wealth, to a just society.”
He confirmed campaign plans to reform France’s parliament.
These plans include shrinking the number of seats in both houses of parliament — there are 577 in the lower house National Assembly and 348 in the Senate — by a third and introducing a degree of proportional representation in the electoral system.
The centrist ex-banker said he hoped to pass legislation enshrining the changes within a year but reserved the right to organise a referendum “if necessary”.
His decision to convene a sitting of both houses of parliament — a rare event which Macron wants to make an annual fixture — was criticised by the opposition, who said the sight of him holding court in Versailles was proof of a “monarchical” drift.
Some accused Macron of trying to steal the thunder of his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, who will deliver a key policy speech to parliament on Tuesday.
The president’s solemn, 1.5-hour-long speech contained few announcements.
It was his first major address in France since his inauguration in mid-May, when he promised a French “renaissance”.
In parliamentary elections held afterwards his year-old party won a resounding majority, scooping up votes from the traditional right and left.
– ‘Cruel’ decade for Europe –
Macron warned the new MPs any triumphalism faced with the “gravity of the circumstances” in France, which is battling unemployment of 9.4 percent, and in Europe which he said had “lost its way”.
“The past decade has been cruel for Europe. We have managed crises but we have lost our way,” he said, adding that France and Germany would launch a series of debates across the EU before the year’s end to discuss the bloc’s future.
On the security front, he confirmed plans to lift the state of emergency in place since the November 2015 jihadist attacks in Paris.
Macron said the emergency measures, which he wants to replace with a tough new anti-terror law, would be lifted “in the autumn.”
– God of gods –
Last month Macron had already rolled out the red carpet in Versailles, hosting Russia’s President Vladimir Putin there for talks last month.
The radical leftist France Unbowed party, the Communist Party and some MPs from a small centrist faction boycotted his speech.
France Unbowed’s firebrand leader Jean-Luc Melenchon accused Macron of “crossing a line with the pharaonic aspect of his presidential monarchy” and called for a demonstration in Paris on Monday evening.
Several newspapers expressed unease Tuesday over the growing concentration of power in the presidency under Macron, a media darling during his campaign who has kept the press at arm’s length since his election.
The cover of the left-wing Liberation newspaper mockingly depicted him as Jupiter, the Roman god of gods, and accused him of failing to share power — an accusation echoed by Le Monde daily.
– Voter goodwill –
A relative newcomer to politics who won election on a tide of disaffection with mainstream politics, Macron has enjoyed a honeymoon with voters so far, drawing particular praise for standing up to US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Putin.
But a Kantar Sofres-Onepoint poll published Thursday showed his approval ratings starting to dip, falling three points in a month to 54 percent.
“We’re seeing a strange, almost schizophrenic mix, of goodwill and distrust (towards Macron),” Pierre Giacometti, a co-founder of the No Com polling firm, told Le Journal du Dimanche weekly, adding: “The French already want results.”