Emmanuel Macron's 'regal setting' for rare address to both houses of parliament draws criticism

Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron is set to address both houses of parliament in the splendour of the Palace of Versailles on Monday, a move seen by critics as further evidence of his regal style of ruling.

Macron will use the speech, which has been billed as a US-style state of the nation address, to set out his vision for France at a rare sitting of both the National Assembly and Senate.

Lawmakers from the two houses are usually called together only in times of national crisis, but Macron has convened the session, which he plans to make an annual event, to lay out his vision and priorities two months after his election.

The event has spurred unease over a growing concentration of power in the presidency, with his speech seen as proof of what critics call his "monarchical" drift.

The address in the former seat of kings comes a day before Prime Minister Edouard Philippe delivers the government's traditional policy statement to the newly elected 577-seat National Assembly.

The press and opposition parties have accused 39-year-old Macron of pulling the rug from under his premier's feet, and slammed his refusal to take questions after his address.

File image of French president Emmanuel Macron. Reuters

File image of Emmanuel Macron. Reuters

A media darling during his campaign, Macron has kept the press at arm's length since his election. His speeches have been carefully choreographed affairs, designed for maximum visual impact, but he also sets aside time during public outings to greet members of the public and pose for selfies.

He is returning to Versailles for the second time in a month, after hosting Russia's President Vladimir Putin for talks there in May.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the radical leftist France Unbowed party, which is boycotting 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" and also announced plans to stay away from Versailles.

"The hyper president," Le Parisien wrote on its front page Sunday, above Macron's official photograph, showing him standing at his desk.

"He decides everything, monopolises the stage, controls the communications," the paper wrote.

On Sunday, Macron drew further criticism for a speech to a group of entrepreneurs last week 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."

Efficiency over debate

Presidential addresses to both houses of parliament are rare events in France.

Philippe, the prime minister, attempted to downplay the controversy over the timing of Macron's address.

"The president of the Republic... will set the course on Monday. It is then up to ourselves, as members of the government, to achieve it," he said.

Macron is expected to set out his plans for labour reforms and for making parliament more representative, and give his vision for deepening European integration.

The speech comes days after the government unveiled a bill that would allow it to use decrees to fast-track labour overhauls through parliament — where Macron's Republic on the Move party has a resounding majority.

Some opposition parties have accused him of neutering the assembly.

"When you do not share power you may be more efficient but you are also perhaps a little less democratic," Christian Jacob, the parliamentary leader of the Republicans, the main opposition party, said Sunday.

Pascal Perrineau, a political scientist at Sciences Po university's Cevipof research unit, told AFP the president's control over the office of prime minister, the government, the ruling party and assembly was "characteristic of Macronist politics".

After promising in his campaign manifesto "Revolution" to maintain a balance of power between the presidency and parliament, Macron had created a relationship of "subjugation", Perrineau said.

'Schizophrenic mix'

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 Russian leader Vladimir 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."


Published Date: Jul 03, 2017 05:45 pm | Updated Date: Jul 03, 2017 05:45 pm


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