BFF-07 France’s Macron to unveil long-awaited reform plan

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ZCZC

BFF-07

FRANCE-POLITICS

France’s Macron to unveil long-awaited reform plan

PARIS, April 25, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron will
unveil his long-awaited response to nearly six months of humiliating street
protests Thursday as he lays out reform plans that could prove decisive for
his political future.

Macron swept to power in 2017 on hopes he would be a youthful breath of
fresh air for France.

But over the past six months, the momentum has been thoroughly knocked out
of his presidency following the emergence of the anti-government “yellow
vest” movement which has held weekly protests against social inequality.

Thursday evening’s address, scheduled for 1600 GMT, will see Macron
holding his first-ever full domestic news conference at which he will outline
a series of reforms drawn up after a vast listening exercise launched in
response to the protests.

He is expected to announce a series of important but not revolutionary
measures, including tax cuts for the middle classes and the re-evaluation of
small pensions — both of which were among the demands of the yellow vest
protesters.

But most of the reforms are already known after leaks to the press,
including the likely closure of the ENA administration school which has
become a direct feeder for the French elite.

– A live debate –

Macron will likely give a brief 20-minute address which will outline
“several approaches and a direction” in response to the crisis, then he will
take questions from French and foreign journalists, aides said.

The entire exchange will be broadcast live.

Macron, who will be surrounded by members of his cabinet, knows he has to
“act very quickly to set out a calendar” for the reforms which will be
announced, said government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye.

Rather than changing the reforms which were leaked earlier this week, the
idea is that Macron will “explain them”.

But he is likely to have an uphill struggle in defending the merits of his
“Great Debate” with a Wednesday poll showing that only one in four believed
the social, economic and political situation had improved since it began in
January.

For Macron, known to favour surprise and the dramatic gesture, the stakes
are huge.

Polls show his popularity rating stuck on or even under 30 percent, a far
cry from the heady days after his inauguration when his approval rating was
over 60 percent.

Macron already has his eye on 2022 presidential elections, acutely aware
that his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande only lasted one
term and failed to implement lasting change.

At stake is not just his ambitious agenda to modernise France but his
status as a global statesman able to stand up to US President Donald Trump
and lead Europe as German Chancellor Angela Merkel steps aside and the UK is
bedevilled by Brexit.

– Quandary at the palace –

Macron had been due to make his big announcement via a pre-recorded
address which was to be broadcast on April 15.

But just two hours beforehand, Notre-Dame cathedral went up in flames,
forcing the presidency to cancel the broadcast as Macron rushed out to the
burning Paris landmark.

And a day later, someone leaked the entire text of his reform plan speech
to the media.

In it, Macron had vowed to lower taxes on the middle classes — a measure
he says would be funded by cracking down on tax evasion. And he promised to
review his highly-unpopular decision to cut a “fortune solidarity tax” on
high earners.

The leak created a major quandary for the Elysee, which was left wondering
whether to rehash the old speech or try something new.

“Everything can still be improved or deepened,” admitted a presidential
official, asking not to be named, who said some key announcements — like
cutting taxes and abolishing ENA — would not be changed.

Also up in the air was how to deliver the message with the Elysee
eventually plumping for a news conference in what will be a first for a head
of state who critics say has kept a near imperial distance from the media.

Although Macron has held press conferences at home before, it has only
ever been when foreign dignitaries are visiting, meaning this will be the
first time he holds a full, wide-ranging news conference with the domestic
media.

“This is an unprecedented exercise for Emmanuel Macron, who has been
inclined to short-circuit traditional media, preferring a locked up
communication carried out via social media,” Le Parisien newspaper said.

BSS/AFP/FI/ 0808 hrs