Macron delivers controversial address in Versailles

In a rare address to both houses of parliament, French President Emmanuel Macron said the "continuous search for scandal" by the media and slow legislating need to end. A court composed of lawmakers that judges government officials will be revamped.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a special congress gathering both houses of parliament (National Assembly and Senate) in the palace of Versailles, outside Paris, Monday, July 3, 2017.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday vowed to lift a state of emergency "this autumn" as it has been in effect since attacks in Paris on November 2015, but also to harden permanent security measures to fight religious extremism and other threats.

Last month, Macron set out a tough new anti-terrorism law designed to allow the lifting of the state of emergency, which has been extended five times. 

"I will re-establish the freedoms of the French people by lifting the state of emergency this autumn because these freedoms are the precondition of the existence of a strong democracy," Macron said in an address to both houses of parliament at an elaborate ceremonial address at the Palace of Versailles.

He said his government "will work to prevent any new attack, and we will work to fight (the assailants) without pity, without regrets, without weakness."

Macron vowed to maintain France's military interventions against extremists abroad, especially in Africa's Sahel region and in Iraq and Syria.

He insisted on the importance of maintaining "the path of negotiation, of dialogue" for long-term solutions.

The new anti-terror law would give French authorities greater powers to act to protect an event or location thought to be at risk from attack, without first seeking permission from the courts.

The draft law would also allow places of worship thought to be promoting extremism to be shut down for up to six months.

The last such joint parliament session was in the wake of November 2015 terror attack in Paris that killed 130 people.

Promises of accountability 

French voters no longer accept the conflicts of interest and corruption scandals that "used to seem almost normal" in the country's political landscape, Macron said.

He notably vowed to end the special court, mostly composed of lawmakers, that judges government members for crimes committed while in charge. They will be judged by regular judges, with a procedure to deter politicians from using courts to attack rivals.

Implicitly addressing the French media, he called for an end to "this continuous search for scandal, the permanent violation of the presumption of innocence, the manhunt where sometimes reputations are destroyed."

Macron said he wants to speed up lawmaking to better adapt the process to a rapidly changing society.

He proposed that some "simple" bills be voted on in parliament's commissions instead of in plenary sessions.

Macron also wants to reduce the number of seats in parliament — which now stand at 925 — by one-third.

He said he hoped to pass legislation enshrining the changes within a year but reserved the right to organise a referendum "if necessary".

He promised to gather both houses of parliament in Versailles every year, to be accountable.

"The reforms and deep changes I have promised will be implemented," he said.

"Presidential monarchy"

La France Insoumise (LFI) leftist party's leader and Member of Parliament Jean-Luc Melenchon (L) and (From Rear L) LFI lawmakers Ugo Bernalicis, Adrien Quatennens, Clementine Autain and Alexis Corbiere protest in Paris. July 3, 2017. (AFP)

Critics who fear Macron is trying to amass too much power organised protests over Monday's event at the palace.

Lawmakers from the far-left party of Jean-Luc Melenchon and communists decided not to attend the speech in protest against what they call a "presidential monarchy".

Melenchon called on supporters to gather on Paris' Place de la Republique on Monday after boycotting Macron’s speech.

Opposition lawmakers from three parties including the far-left France Unbowed boycotted Macron's address, and about 100 Communists wearing the red caps of the French revolutionaries of 1789 demonstrated in front of Versailles' town hall.

They are especially angry that he wants to strip worker protections through a decree-like procedure, allowing little parliamentary debate.

Critics have complained about the cost of the Versailles event and accused Macron of convening it for reasons of self-interest instead of national need.

Amnesty complained last month that French authorities were abusing anti-terrorism measures by using them to curb legitimate protests.

AFP, AP, Reuters