‘Monarchical’ Macron vows to transform France

Strike a pose: A video posted online showed Macron carefully arranging the items on his desk.

The French president promised to deliver reform in a bold speech in the royal Palace of Versailles yesterday. Some have compared him to a modern-day monarch. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

It was a speech that came with considerable pomp and pageantry. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, was saluted by a guard of honour as he arrived at the historic Palace of Versailles yesterday.

Speaking in the grand Congressional chamber in front of both houses of the French parliament, the 39-year-old former banker promised to put France on a “radically new path”, announcing major reform of France’s political, judicial and economic institutions.

The number of MPs will be cut by a third. The judiciary will be made more independent. The economy will be reformed.

And if all of this is not passed by parliament within a year, he will put the measures to a referendum and let the French people decide.

The state-of-the-union-style speech in which Macron put forward his bold agenda was a piece of political theatre unprecedented in France.

Macron clearly takes imagery very seriously. An official portrait, rich in symbolism, shows him with a firm grip on his desk in the Elysée Palace. On the day of his inauguration, he rode up the Champs Elysée standing on the back of a military jeep. The address at Versailles follows this trend.

Having swept aside the traditional parties with his newly formed République en Marche party in the presidential and parliamentary elections — albeit the latter with record low turnout — Macron has a strong mandate to implement his reforms.

He has sought to cast himself in the mould of former president Charles de Gaulle, who wrote France’s constitution, creating a strong presidential role.

But some say that he has taken this too far, calling Macron a “pharaoh” and “Napoleon”, and yesterday’s speech “monarchical”.

He wants to be seen as above the political fray, almost like a monarch, and has declined TV interviews, saying that his thoughts are “too complex” for that medium. A recent poll found that 74% agree with his handling of the media.

This contrasts with other countries where people seem to prefer politicians to demonstrate the common touch.

Should we look for more monarchical grandeur in our leaders?

Royal prerogative

Yes, say some. Sometimes strong and authoritative leadership is what is needed, particularly when reforming an outdated and inefficient system as in France. A bit of pomp and ceremony elevates leaders above the bickering of political life and allows them to create an overarching vision. If only the UK had a similar figure.

Come on, say others, this is the 21st century. Our leaders should be accessible and accountable. Giving too much power to an elected monarch means that reforms fail to get proper scrutiny. All that pageantry just makes ordinary people feel like politics is a million miles from their real lives.

You Decide

  1. Should leaders act like elected monarchs?
  2. Are Macron’s reforms too much, too fast?

Activities

  1. You are posing for your presidential portrait. Where will you have it taken, what will be in it and what pose will you strike? What do these things say about you?
  2. Research and write a one-page report comparing France’s political system to that of two other European countries. What is the same and what is different?

Some People Say...

“Two hundred years after the Revolution, the French still miss having a King.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Macron has a strong political mandate to implement his reforms, with his majority in parliament meaning it is likely they will pass.
What do we not know?
How the public will react to the reforms. They include changing strict labour laws to make it easier for companies to hire and fire people. France has a strong tradition of protest, which sometimes turns violent. The low turnout in the parliamentary elections may mean that the public is not as enthusiastic about these reforms as Macron.

Word Watch

Palace of Versailles
The palace was built by King Louis XIV in the 17th century and remains a symbol of absolute monarchy.
Economy
Macron aims to reform strict labour laws and make it easier for companies to hire and fire employees.
Unprecedented
There have only been two joint sessions since the law was changed to allow them in 2008. Both were at times of national crisis — after the financial crash of 2008 and the 2016 Paris terror attacks.
République en Marche
Macron describes the party as being progressive but of neither the left nor the right.
Charles de Gaulle
A war-time general who led France in the aftermath of the second world war, and again from 1958 after the failure of successive governments.
Countries
For example, Theresa May was derided in the UK’s general election campaign for refusing to meet the public or take part in TV debates.

Subjects

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