VERSAILLES, France (UPDATED) – President Emmanuel Macron on Monday, July 3, 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 since his election in May, Macron delivered a US-style state of the nation speech in the Versailles palace, the former seat of French kings, saying the country must change.
“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 a plan to implement reform of France’s jaded political system, changes first raised during campaigning.
That would include shrinking the number of lawmakers in both houses of parliament – 577 in the lower house National Assembly and 348 in the Senate – by a third, saying it would have “positive effects on the general quality of parliamentary work”.
Macron also pledged to introduce a degree of proportional representation into France’s winner-takes-all electoral system.
The move, long demanded by small parties such as the far-right National Front, would ensure “all tendencies are fairly represented”, he said.
The centrist president, who enjoys a large majority in parliament, said he hoped lawmakers would adopt the changes within a year but reserved the right to organise a referendum “if necessary”.
Macron’s decision to convene a sitting of both houses of parliament – a rare event usually reserved for times of crisis – was criticized by the opposition, who saw his use of Versailles as further proof of a “monarchical” drift.
Some accused Macron of trying to steal the thunder of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who will deliver a key policy speech to parliament on Tuesday, July 2.
The speech was Macron’s first major address in France since his inauguration in mid-May, when he promised to lead a “renaissance.”
He warned the newly-elected lawmakers against triumphalism in the face of the “gravity of the circumstances” both in France, which is grappling with a stagnant economy, and in Europe which had “lost its way”.
“The building of Europe has been weakened by the spread of bureaucracy and by the growing scepticism that comes from that,” Macron said.
“The last 10 years have been cruel for Europe. We have managed crises but we have lost our way,” he said, adding that France would help drive a revival of the European idea of “social justice”.
Last month Macron had already rolled out the red carpet in Versailles, hosting Russia’s President Vladimir Putin there for talks instead of the presidential palace in Paris.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the radical leftist France Unbowed party, boycotted the speech, accused Macron of “crossing a line with the pharaonic aspect of his presidential monarchy”.
The leader of the small centrist UDI party, Jean-Christophe Lagarde, accused the president of “a PR stunt”.
On Sunday, Macron drew further criticism for a speech last week to a group of entrepreneurs in which he drew a distinction between “people who succeed and those who are nothing.”
Far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen, whom Macron defeated in May’s presidential run-off, condemned the remark as “unworthy” and “revealing of Macronist thinking.”
The speech comes a week after the government unveiled a bill that would allow it to use decrees to fast-track labor overhauls through parliament using decrees.
Some opposition parties have accused Macron of neutering the assembly.
“When you do not share power you may be more efficient but you are also perhaps a little less democratic,” said Christian Jacob, the parliamentary leader of the Republicans, the main opposition.
A relative newcomer to politics who won election on a tide of disaffection with mainstream politics, Macron has enjoyed a honeymoon with voters, 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.” – Rappler.com