Emmanuel Macron has promised a further €100bn to finance France’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic — on top of the €460bn already allocated — while vowing to press on with his economic reforms to “modernise” France during the final two years of his mandate.
In a live television interview to mark the July 14 holiday, the French president was unapologetic about the “unprecedented” economic reforms, such as labour market liberalisation, implemented since he was elected in 2017. These, he said, had fulfilled his election promises, created jobs and made France attractive to international investors.
But he acknowledged that he had failed to reconcile a divided nation and that France would face a surge in unemployment as a result of the pandemic.
“On top of the money already announced, with this recovery plan we are putting in at least €100bn to ensure an industrial, environmental, local, cultural and educational relaunch,” he said. “I’m convinced we can build a different country in 10 years.”
He said he would not drop plans for a comprehensive reform of the country’s complex and costly pension system, which triggered big trade union demonstrations last year. But he would not make it an immediate priority and promised to reopen negotiations with unions and employers.
“The idea is not to change the final destination,” he said of his political programme, “but to change the way of getting there.”
Earlier this month, Mr Macron dropped Edouard Philippe, a popular prime minister who had piloted the reforms through parliament for the past first three years and managed the handling of the Covid-19 crisis. He was replaced by Jean Castex, a little-known bureaucrat, in a move that suggested Mr Macron wanted to take centre stage himself in the run-up to the next presidential election in 2022.
Mr Macron, much criticised by protesters on the left as an arrogant “president of the rich”, accepted that he was hated by some of his critics and had sometimes been clumsy, as well as suffering from remarks taken out of context by his opponents. “I’ve allowed myself to seem like someone that I’m not,” he said.
After a Bastille Day ceremony in Paris that was curtailed by coronavirus restrictions and dedicated in part to the front-line health workers dealing with Covid-19 patients, Mr Macron said there were signs that infections were “taking off again a bit” and announced plans to make it compulsory to wear a face mask in indoor public places from August 1.
“We need to take preventive measures and prepare ourselves” for a new peak, Mr Macron said. More than 30,000 people have died in France from Covid-19 since the start of the year. One of Mr Castex’s first actions was to announce an €8bn-a-year pay boost for 1.5m health workers following negotiations between the government and trade unions.
Even if they can stave off a new wave of infections following the easing of France’s strict lockdown two months ago, Mr Macron and Mr Castex will have to deal with the country’s worst recession since the second world war this year as well as between 800,000 and 1m extra unemployed by early 2021.
“We will have lay-offs and we will have an increase in unemployment, a massive rise,” Mr Macron said, promising further measures such as the waiving of social security charges to promote jobs and apprenticeships for school leavers. “It’s an anti-lay-off plan,” he said. “The priority for this summer, and of the return to work in the autumn, is jobs.”
He declined to say explicitly whether he would stand for re-election two years from now, but made it clear he felt he had a mission to heal the political divisions that have wracked his presidency since the anti-government gilets jaunes protests erupted in 2018.
“I think we are living through a democratic crisis,” he said, arguing that while criticism was a normal part of democracy, hatred and violent demonstrations were unacceptable.
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