Macron determined to push ahead as he launches 'Year 2' of reform drive

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By Alice Cuddy  & Claire Heffron  with Reuters
Macron determined to push ahead as he launches 'Year 2' of reform drive
Copyright  REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Pool

President Emmanuel Macron has said he is determined to push ahead with his ambitious agenda and reforms despite polls showing that the French leader is losing support among working-class voters.

Addressing a joint gathering of the French national assembly and Senate at the Palace of Versailles on Monday, Macron sought to confront critics who have nicknamed him "president of the rich", while not stepping back from his pledge to transform France.

In many respects the 90-minute address was an acknowledgement that he had isolated some sectors of his electorate, especially with a raft of pro-business reforms, while re-emphasising that root-and-branch reform was needed to reinvigorate the economy and put France on a stronger footing.

'Humble but determined'

"I know I can't do everything, I know I can't succeed in everything," the 40-year-old former investment banker told lawmakers, calling himself "humble but determined".

Striking an at times modest tone, Macron appeared keen to counter accusations that he is arrogant and out of touch. "This is an office that, realistically, requires humility," he told the audience, seated in an ornate meeting hall in the gilded palace of France's former monarchy.

"But humility in oneself, not humility for France." He defended his decision to slash a wealth tax, the move that first prompted opponents to brand him "president of the rich" and a label he has struggled to shake off since.

"A policy for businesses is not a policy for the rich," he said, in his clearest statement addressing the tag. "It's impossible to pretend you can redistribute wealth if you don't create it in the first place."

He said France might have managed to avoid the increase in income inequality that many Western countries have experienced in recent decades but it had failed to create a society which valued merit and social mobility.

"What has emerged in France is an inequality of destiny," he said, reemphasising the need for an overhaul of issues ranging from education to on-the-job training to better prepare French people for changes in technology and the demands of the workplace.

In a gesture to left-wing opponents, several of whom boycotted the speech because of the monarchical undertones in its setting, Macron said he would look to amend the constitution so that lawmakers could debate with the president during joint sessions of parliament.

However, he also said his government would reveal plans to cut public spending in the coming weeks — without offering any specifics — a move likely to further aggravate those who say his presidency is more of the political right than the left.