Macron under fire for calling French ‘resistant to change’
PARIS, Aug 30, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – French President Emmanuel Macron came
under attack from the opposition on Thursday after describing his countrymen
as “Gauls who are resistant to change” during a trip to Denmark.
The comments came during an exchange with French expatriates in the
Scandinavian country, which Macron admires for its economic model that mixes
a strong social security system with rules allowing companies to easily fire
“Let’s not be naive, what is possible is linked to a culture, to a people
who are the product of their history,” Macron said on Wednesday.
“These Lutheran (Protestant) people, who have experienced transformations
in recent years, are not like the Gauls who are resistant to change,” he
said, using a term for the ancient tribes that roamed France more than 2000
The remark echoed previous comments by Macron saying the French “hate
reforms” and that the country is “unreformable”.
He prefers instead to talk about a “transformation” under his leadership.
The 40-year-old former investment banker is trying to push through his own
version of Denmark’s “flexi-curity” — flexibility and security — by
loosening French labour law and reforming the social security system.
But the opposition back home seized on the remarks.
“As usual, he scorns the French while overseas. The Gauls will take great
pleasure in responding to his arrogance and contempt,” said far-right leader
Marine Le Pen.
Leftwing MP Alexis Corbiere from the France Unbowed party denounced Macron
for his “staggeringly stupid remarks”.
“Macron in Denmark is not only contemptuous of his own people but also very
ignorant about the Gauls who were incredibly progressive,” he added.
“It is unacceptable to hear the president stereotype and criticise the
French people abroad,” tweeted the head of the centre-right Republicans
party, Laurent Wauquiez.
– Nepotism row –
The president was quick to respond while in Finland where he is on the
second leg of his Scandinavian trip.
“You need to step back from the controversy and social media,” Macron told
reporters, describing his remarks as “a light-hearted moment”.
“I love France and the French people, make no mistake. I love it in all of
its components,” he added.
“It’s not contemptuous to say things, the truth. We are not a country with
a culture of consensus, of adjustments little by little,” he said.
He also defended a decision to appoint French writer Philippe Besson as
consul general for France in Los Angeles.
Besson, who has written some 20 novels, is a close personal friend of
Macron and his wife Brigitte who penned an overwhelmingly positive book on
how Macron captured the French presidency in May 2017.
“There is no cronyism in exchange for favours,” Macron said, indicating he
would “continue to open up all of the top state jobs to people with talent
and strengths from all walks of life.”
The criticism comes as problems mount for the centrist leader who swept to
power promising to end decades of high unemployment and reform the European
He suffered a major political scandal this summer when a senior security
aide was filmed manhandling protesters, and his poll ratings have slumped to
their lowest-ever levels.
On Tuesday, he suffered a major blow to his green credentials when his
popular environment minister resigned live on radio, saying the government
was doing too little and was influenced by “lobbies”.
Some political opponents accused Macron of trying to create a diversion
from these domestic problems, but political commentator Mathieu Chaigne from
the consulting group BVA disagreed.
“Rather than trying to divert attention, I really think he is talking about
his deepest conviction,” he said.
“He wants a model of risk takers, which is colliding with the French system
which seeks protection above all.”