Liberté, égalité, fraternité – the ambitious reform

Macron State of Union

French President Macron held a rare 90 minute speech. Credit: AFP

by Aneesa Dastgir

After the French parliamentary election, President Emmanuel Macron gave a 90 minute speech on Monday addressing both houses of parliament. This is a rarity in itself, as a speech of this calibre is only held in ‘crisis’ situations.

The event itself was criticised by many, due to the venue being Palace de Versailles, a regal venue echoing monarchy.

The speech covered a multitude of issues, ranging from national security to the parliament itself. I’m going to break down the key issues that were discussed and what the outcome of these issues could be within the next year and the time-frame of Macron’s presidency.

  • One of the key issues raised was President Macron’s decision to involve the voters even more by holding referenda for reforms if parliament were too slow to reach a conclusion. Holding frequent referenda might not be the best idea, with voter fatigue looming over the nation. Back-to-back elections are draining, being bombarded with information 24/7 – this idea could be weak when implemented.
  • France has been in a state of emergency since the devastating terror attacks in Paris in November 2015. President Macron wants to end this and restore a France that is free. This is in respect to claims from activist groups that the state of emergency has left people feeling trapped.A state of emergency is very powerful, giving significant power to authorities; curfews can be set, limitations on gatherings and closure of public spaces can be imposed if deemed necessary. Police and fellow national authorities can confiscate weapons from individuals, even if held legally. These measures are justified by an evident threat to national security. However, a normal SoE lasts a maximum of 12 days, and should an extension be requested, it needs to be approved by parliament. The current SoE was declared by Macron’s predecessor, Francois Hollande.
  • Cutting the number of representatives in parliament was on the president’s list – he would like to cut at least 1/3 of representatives so they can “legislate less” and “act faster”. This seems like a smart idea; more can be achieved with fewer people, and Macron will bring in some proportional representation by having a variety of stances, rather than a monochrome parliament with only those who agree with him. The cut will affect both houses of parliament which total 925 MPs.

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    President Macron has laid out plans early in his presidency. Credit – BBC

  • Moving away from the nanny state seems to be one of President Macron’s wishes. He stated that, “It’s not the French who need to break their addiction to public interventionism, it’s the state”. There are pros and cons to being a nanny state, but could some attributes of individualism help bring France back to its feet?
  • President Macron and the French media’s relationship is turbulent, to say the least. Macron took a swipe at the French media, stating that they need to stop their “incessant hunt for scandal”.  I am positive that this did not go down well with many journalists and is quite insulting.A journalist’s job is to report what they see, what they are gathering from the events unrolling in the world. We can’t be selective or biased, because that is not real journalism. Journalism should be free: free from bias, from threats, from manipulative agendas. I digress. Politics are a controversial game – every aspect of a politician’s life is under scrutiny. It comes with the territory.
  • France’s military abroad will still be present within certain regions of Africa, along with Syria and Iraq. This decision may not be seen as a positive by the people of France.

Some found the address very tiring and even boring. Some citizens are stating that the power is going to President Macron’s head and is thinking only of himself. Many said that it was quite selfish of the president to host his speech before his prime minister’s speech – Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was due to address the national assembly the next day.

The speech held by the prime minister was a stark contrast to the president’s speech – it focused on public spending and the rising debt of France. PM Phillipe said, “We are dancing on a volcano that is rumbling ever louder.”

However, in positions of great responsibility, such as that of running a powerful country, it is hard to please everyone. Certain members of the house, ranging from either side of the political spectrum, chose to boycott the event to show how they felt. Some attended out of respect for the president regardless of how they felt.

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Crowds cheered Macron’s electoral victory, but will his plans be met with similar scenes? Credit – New York Times

Either way, President Macron’s reform plans for the next five years will face obstacles and opposition. Seeing how the state plans to implement these reforms, and how the public will react to these decisions, should be interesting.

The upcoming G20 summit will also give Macron a chance to lay the foundations of his vision for the next five years. Countries such as Japan and Argentina will be there so the French leader can use his power to gain allies in certain deals.

The summit will not suffer from a lack of drama, as we can expect problems to rise between Trump and Putin. After all the election meddling scandal, Trump has hinted that “other countries may be to blame”.

Who could these countries be? This is no longer a case of ‘Russia ate my homework’.

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