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Macron Charts Post Path for France and His Presidency

Emmanuel Macron Photographer: Lisi Niesner/Bloomberg

President Emmanuel Macron sought to reset his presidency and accelerate France’s path out of lockdown as he faces economic strife ahead of the next presidential election in 2022.

In a televised address amid dwindling approval ratings, French President Emmanuel Macron said the nation was ready to turn the page toward recovery from the human and economic cost of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed almost 30,000 people in France and helped erode trust in his presidency. In a welcome decision for tourists and locals, he said indoor service at bars and restaurants in the Paris region can resume on Monday. All schools will reopen from June 22.
While virus infections in France have slowed, the prospect of returning to normalcy means that divisive topics that consumed Macron before the pandemic — from Yellow Vest protesters to a disputed pension reform — look set to resurface. The government expects the economy to shrink by 11% this year.

“The moment we are going through, which comes after many crises over the last 15 years, requires us to open new stages in order to regain full control of our lives and our destiny in France and Europe,” Macron said Sunday. “Our first priority is to rebuild a strong, green, sovereign, solid economy.”

Macron’s domestic woes have fueled speculation of changes in his cabinet and a possible early election. He didn’t address those questions on Sunday, saying instead he’ll present his “new path” in an speech in July.

He did talk about reinventing himself and acknowledge flaws in his government’s handling of the pandemic. “We’ll confront our weaknesses and will fix them quickly and strongly,” he said. “The state held up.”

Macron had a 33% approval rating in an Elabe poll published June 4, compared with 39% in April. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe appears to get more credit for tackling the pandemic: his approval rating rose to 39%, the highest since December 2017.

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Macron addressed discrimination and racism in France for the first time since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody set off nationwide protests in the U.S.

“We will be uncompromising with racism, antisemitism and discrimination,” Macron said, days after German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out against racism in her own country. He pledged “new strong measures for equal opportunities.”

Yet he vowed that statues of French historical figures would remain untouched and praised the police. France “won’t erase any names from its history,” he said.

Confident Stance

Ahead of the speech, a presidency official said Macron, 42, has been crafting the “next steps” of his tenure. That means going back to the drawing board on pension reform and weighing which parts have to be scrapped.

Before the pandemic, Macron had pledged to cut back on generous retirement benefits to rein in government spending. The goal still stands, and is possibly even more important given the strain that Covid-19 will put on French coffers, according to his advisers.

As the government implemented one of the world’s strictest lockdowns to stem the virus, it also unleashed support for the economy that Macron said would total 500 billion euros ($563 billion). On Sunday, he pledged to avoid tax increases while promising investment in hospitals and youth employment.

After more than three years in power, Macron has the advantage of a broad majority in parliament and the lack of a credible adversary for the 2022 presidential election.

With the lockdown easing, he struck a combative, confident tone on Sunday.

“We’ll be able to once again find pleasure in being together,” Macron said. “In short, we will be able to find France again.”


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