Macron seeks to revive presidency with vow for 'stronger' France

Macron seeks to revive presidency with vow for 'stronger' France
Macron seeks to revive presidency with vow for 'stronger' France

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - With over three years of his second and final term to run, Macron has been on the back foot in recent weeks after a series of crises and a growing challenge from the far right. — AFP pic

PARIS, Jan 17 ― President Emmanuel Macron yesterday sought to breathe new life into his final term with a promise for a “stronger and fairer” France, at a rare news conference peppered with a string of announcements aimed at forging greater civic responsibility and security.

With over three years of his second and final term to run, Macron has been on the back foot in recent weeks after a series of crises and a growing challenge from the far right.

Last week he announced a new Cabinet with a pronounced tilt to the right, naming Gabriel Attal, 34, as France's youngest-ever prime minister, and followed this with his first full-scale domestic press conference in half a decade.

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He announced a trial that could lead to school uniforms becoming compulsory in the next two years, said all children should learn France's national anthem “La Marseillaise”, and unveiled an idea for all schoolchildren to take drama courses.

“I am convinced that we have the basis to succeed,” Macron said, telling reporters gathered under the chandeliers of the Elysee Palace “our children will live better tomorrow than we live today”.

“France will be stronger... if we are more united, if we re-learn to share values, a common culture, respect in the classroom, in the street, in public transport and in shops,” he said, watched by his new cabinet team.

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'Indulgence'

Entering even into the daily lives of families, he announced that he wanted to “regulate the use of screens among young children”, though it was not immediately clear how this would be implemented.

Macron also promised order by “better controlling our borders, by fighting against uncivilised behaviour with a doubling of the police presence in our streets, by fighting against drugs, by fighting against radical Islam”.

His comments came as his Education Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera, promoted in the reshuffle to head a new super ministry of education and sports, is being bitterly attacked over her decision to send all three of her children to a private school.

The row, which has overshadowed the Cabinet reshuffle announced last week, was sparked when she said she sent one child to a private school because of short staffing at his public establishment.

The minister was loudly booed Tuesday as she visited the boy's former school in a bid to clear the air with teachers.

Macron, already under fire for not appointing women to top offices of state, told the news conference that her comments had been “clumsy” and that she had been right to later apologise.

But with the minister watching on, Macron said he felt “indulgence for her” as he had himself offended people, “in particular women”, at the start of his term in office.

Far-right fears

The president, accused by opponents of being aloof and even of having monarchical tendencies, regularly answers questions from reporters while abroad but has made a habit of almost never holding a full-scale press conference at home.

But Macron is hoping to reboot a second term in office hobbled by the lack of a parliamentary majority, after mass protests against a pensions reform and divisions within his ranks over an immigration bill last year.

Analysts say the Elysee is genuinely concerned that the far-right National Rally (RN) led by Marine Le Pen and her youthful protege Jordan Bardella, 28, could defeat pro-Macron forces not just in European elections in June but also in the 2027 presidential vote.

Macron accused the RN of being the “party of collective impoverishment” and “of lies”.

“I am pleased to have been able to prevent this operation (by defeating the far-right in the previous 2022 presidential election) and I will do everything to continue this because it is good for the country,” Macron said.

But writing on X, Le Pen said that Macron's “great meeting with the nation” had simply been over two hours of “interminable chatter” without “vision and above all without solutions to the critical problems of the French”. ― AFP

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