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French President Emmanuel Macron has promised a renewed push to reform the labour market and cut red tape for business, while doing more to help the inflation-squeezed middle class as he seeks to reboot his second term.
In a wide-ranging press conference on Tuesday night at the Elysée palace, Macron laid out the priorities for the new government he named last week after a tumultuous stretch marked by parliamentary battles and unrest.
He cast the actions in the context of the fight to contain the rise of the far right, led by his perennial rival Marine Le Pen, arguing that the government must work to address issues that drive voters into its opponents’ arms, such as unemployment, degraded public services and illegal immigration.
“We need a stronger and fairer France, which is based on realities,” Macron said, slamming Le Pen’s Rassemblement National as the “party of lies” and “party of collective impoverishment” for its inchoate economic policies.
“We shouldn’t just look at this with French eyes. Something is happening across European democracies,” Macron said of the rise of the far right in the region, five months out from European elections. In France, Le Pen’s party has opened up a 10-point polling lead with Macron’s centrist alliance.
“To avoid a return of the extremes, and in particular of the far right, I think we need to attack the things that make people vote for them.”
Macron laid out a decidedly conservative vision for France that emphasised re-establishing “order” and “authority” in a society he cast as divided and anxious amid global upheaval, wars and technological changes. In response he promised to pursue what he called the civic and economic “rearmament” of France.
That means more of the pro-business measures that have defined his presidency since 2017 and a new push to clean up degraded public finances with a mix of higher tax revenue and a broad effort to cut government spending.
Macron confirmed that after spending billions to protect consumers with subsidised electricity price rises during a two-year-long energy crisis, the state would restore taxes it had previously waived, which will push up power bills this year. The potentially unpopular decision reflects the government’s tough balancing act between cutting public debt and helping the middle classes.
“We’ve already done a lot [on economic reforms] and we’ll do a lot more,” Macron said, calling for an acceleration of measures to simplify procedures for businesses. To spur people back to work, he promised to take a tougher line on unemployed people who turn down job offers, whilst also offering better training for them.
But Macron also put a new focus on more societal issues, including a revamped kind of parental leave that would be shorter but better paid, a crackdown on screen time usage by children and a new national service programme for young people. He said school uniforms could become compulsory from 2026 if experiments before then appeared to work well.
With about three years left of his second term, Macron is trying to spark new momentum, beginning last week with the nomination of a new cabinet headed by his 34-year-old protégé, Gabriel Attal, who became France’s youngest prime minister.
As well as blunting Le Pen’s progress, his aim is to turn the page on a difficult stretch marked by protests over pensions reform last spring, riots in June over a police shooting and parliamentary battles over an immigration bill in December.
Macron’s centrist alliance no longer holds a parliamentary majority so he has found it harder to advance his agenda.
On the international front, the French president said more efforts would be needed to support Ukraine in its war to push back Russia’s full-scale invasion and promised to visit Kyiv in February. France will also finalise a package of military aid and security guarantees to Ukraine “in the coming weeks”, he added, promising to send 40 more long-range cruise missiles and “hundreds” more bombs to Ukraine.
“There will be decisions to make both for the US and Europe” on sending more military equipment to Ukraine, he said, adding “we cannot let Russia win”.
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