Macron’s first speech to the press since he became president was meant to offer a change in direction, instead, it delivered more of the same Macron.
In his first press conference at the Elysee Palace after more than five months of ‘Yellow Vest’ protests, French President Emmanuel Macron claimed that he has changed.
At the start of his leadership, Macron said he wanted to rule as a ‘Jupiterian’ president, taking cue from the Roman God of Gods, and presenting himself as a remote, dignified figure… who weighs his rare pronouncements carefully.
Instead, the Yellow Vest movement that erupted in November has forced the Jupiterian president to spend more time listening than pronouncing. Since the start of the year, Macron has been visiting town halls across the country in an attempt to understand what ails the electorate.
Thursday’s speech was the culmination of that effort. And the response from the Yellow Vest movement has not been what the president hoped.
Macron made no mention of the police violence that has drawn widespread condemnation and left one person dead, five people with severed hands, and hundreds of others injured, many with life-changing wounds.
Rather, he outlined policy measures including a ‘significant’ reduction in income taxes, cutting bureaucracy, investment in early childhood schemes, and pension reforms.
Some will wonder whether these ‘new’ policy announcements are any different from policies proposed back in December.
The seemingly generous tax giveaway could also be seen as a bribe to voters in order for Macron to continue the reforms he so eagerly wants to push through and which were the catalyst the Yellow Vest protests in the first place.
On social media, the Yellow Vest movements have announced that they will continue the protests this coming Saturday.
Macron’s attempt at engineering the ‘great debate' on his terms seems to have failed to assuage the Yellow Vests who have sought to scrap the government’s green tax on diesel, demanding an increase the living wage, increased taxes on the wealthy, and improved public services in the face of hospital closures.
Some of the protesters have even demanded that parliament be dissolved and the president resign, clearing the way for early elections to be held.
For the French leader, the concessions would be a hard pill to swallow.
The beleaguered president is on the one hand attempting to reign in France’s budget deficit, which is already above what the European Union expects of its member states at three percent, while also attempting to placate an angry French public.
Macron’s approval rating is stuck at just under 30 percent, from a low point of 23 percent in December, however, this is a small victory for the president.
At stake for the Macron presidency is not just his legacy, but also his attempts to cast himself as an international statesman able to lead the European Union as it attempts to deal with Brexit and stand up to Donald Trump at the same time.
Macron is acutely aware that his predecessors, Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, lasted no longer than one term and left little to no legacy behind.
Following in their footsteps would definitely be considered a failure by his Jupiterian standards.