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Macron 'state of the nation' speech sparks 'authoritarian' charges

Humiliated? Prime Minister Edouard Philippe
Humiliated? Prime Minister Edouard Philippe AFP

France's opposition parties have accused President Emmanuel Macron of "absolutist tendencies" for deciding to give a US-style state of the nation speech to a joint meeting of both houses of parliament the day before the prime minister's traditional address to the National Assembly. And the election of officers of parliamentary committee's has led to charges that his party wants to "choose its opposition".


As is traditonal, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will outline the government's policy in a speech to the lower house of parliament on Tuesday.

But Macron has taken the unprecedented decision to upstage him by calling a congress - a meeting of members of both houses of parliament - at the former royal palace of Versailles on Monday so that he can give his own big speech.

And, while MPs will be able to question and oppose what Philippe has to say, there will be no debate after Macron's address.

Opposition politicians were up in arms over the move this week, Damien Abad of the right-wing Republicans claiming it is a sign of an "absolutist tendency" in the new presidency.

"We are not in an imperial regime where we go and appplaud the new prince who will express himself in front of us without any responsibility," Republicans MP Guillaume Larrivé told RFI.

Alexis Corbière of the hard-left France Unbowed party claimed it was part of an "Americanisation of political life", accusing Macron of running an "ultrapresidency".

At least two MPs, both from a centre-right parliamentary group that intends to work "constructively" with the government, declared they would boycott the congress.

"It's pointless and it's expensive," one of them, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, tweeted. "The president of the republic does not need us for his PR."

The president has had the right to call a congress since 2008 and both Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande have organised them, to address economic crisis in the former case and terror attacks in the latter.

French President Emmanuel Macron's official portrait, released on Thursday
French President Emmanuel Macron's official portrait, released on Thursday AFP/Présidence de la République/Soazig De La Moissonière

Prime minister 'humiliated'

But Macron's move comes at the beginning of his term in office and he reportedly intends to make it an annual event.

Above all, it is the overshadowing of Philippe's speech the next day that has raised eyebrows.

"There is no prime minister any more," Republicans MP Eric Ciotti commented, while Abad described it as a "humiliation" for Philippe.

On a visit to Estonia Thursday, the premier denied any such intention on the president's part.

There will be two speeches along the same line and complementary to each other, he said.

Asked if he feared his appearance would be eclipsed by the president's, he replied, "I don't think so. I think even the opposite."

Acrimony in parliament

The second day of the new parliamentary session was also unexpectedly contentious.

Wednesday's sitting devoted to electing officers of various parliamentary committee lasted from 3.00pm to 00.35am on Thursday morning, compared to five minutes after the 2012 elections.

That was because a post usually reserved for the opposition went not to Ciotti, the candidate of the largest opposition group, but to Thierry Solère of the "constructive" breakaway from the mainstream right in parliament.

The election was by secret ballot but Solère's victory can only have been possible due to the votes of members of Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM).

Republicans accused the majority party of "trampling on the rights of the opposition" and behind-the-scenes discussions during several suspensions failed to satisfy them.

"Thierry Solère is clearly part of the majority," the head of the Republicans parliamentary group Christian Jacob told CNews TV on Thursday. "He called for a majority for president Macron during the campaign, it was on his leaflets and his posters."

The ruling party is "choosing its opposition", National Front leader Marine Le Pen commented on Thursday. "It is to be feared that it will be neither efficient nor combative."

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