Macron outlines new approach to his presidency in Bastille Day interview
French President Emmanuel Macron pledged an additional 100 billion euros in coronavirus recovery funds and promised a referendum to write the fight against climate change into the Constitution during a televised interview on France’s national Bastille Day holiday on Tuesday.
“The country has been deeply shaken and traumatised and I believe this 14 July has a particular tone,” Macron said at the beginning of the interview on France’s national holiday, the first time he has directly responded to journalists since April 2019.
In an interview lasting more than an hour, Macron sought to outline his vision for the remaining two years of his presidency based on what he believed had worked and not worked during the first three.
His early years in office were marked by reforms to liberalise the economy, which honoured campaign promises but also fueled deep resentment expressed most clearly in the Yellow Vest movement.
“Without a doubt, I let something appear that I don’t believe to be the case,” Macron told the two journalists in his office at the Elysee presidential palace in Paris. “I gave the French people the impression that I was determined to reform, whether it was for them or against them.”
The head of state sought to strike a balance between noting accomplishments and showing willingness to change, saying he replaced his prime minister and government because “we cannot say we are changing our approach and method and keep the same team.”
Also on the new government, Macron defending the appointment of new Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, currently under investigation on allegations of rape, on the grounds of the presumption of innocence.
In addition to pledge to make face masks mandatory indoors, Macron said France’s experience with the coronavirus epidemic made it prepared for future waves of infection.
“Everything is being done to avoid a second wave and to be prepared for one if it comes,” he said, assuring France was now equipped with the necessary masks, tests and intensive care beds. “All that has happened so far has enabled us to get organised.”
Macron also sought to play down concerns that French citizens would not get priority access to a vaccine if one were developed in US-funded labs of French company Sanofi.
The president also discouraged the use of hydroxychloroquine, championed as a Covid-19 treatment by controversial French doctor Didier Raoult, until researchers resolved uncertainties around its effectiveness and potential side effects.
Turning towards the economic recovery after a nearly eight-week lockdown earlier this year, Macron warned as many as a million new people risked being out of work by spring of 2021.
With the government already pledging 500 billion euros in recovery funds in the form of furloughs, grants, tax deferrals and state-backed loans, Macron promised an additional 100 billion euros to fund a range of measures.
Many related to helping young job seekers, including aid for 300,000 first-time job contracts, 100,000 new publicly-funded “civic service” jobs and waivers on paying social charges for low-earning young workers.
Macron said recovery would not be funded by new taxes but by investment in projects to relocalise industry and upgrade buildings and infrastructure to meet updated environmental standards.
Climate change in the constitution
One ambition for the remaining years of his presidency was to organise a referendum to write the fight against climate change into the French Constitution “as soon as possible”, Macron said.
Such a change was a proposal from the recently concluded Citizens Climate Convention, a post-Yellow Vests participatory democracy initiative.
Environmental plans going forward would involve developing national and regional rail networks, including bringing back night trains, which have waned with the development of low-cost but highly polluting air travel.
However, Macron pushed back against pressure to reduce domestic air travel in a meaningful way, saying that domestic flights were “justified” for destinations reachable by train in four hours.
Macron said another priority was rebuilding trust between civilians and the police, and promised to equip police officers with cameras that moniter how they interact with people they search and detain.
The president said it was “too early” to consider whether to run for a second term in spring 2022 and that he “will let you know” when the come is right.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe