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Macron eyes key immigration and economy reforms despite political challenges

France and its leader awake from vacations with many issues to tackle. Emmanuel Macron gives his prospects on the era and the role France will play in the coming years.
France and its leader awake from vacations with many issues to tackle. Emmanuel Macron gives his prospects on the era and the role France will play in the coming years. Copyright LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP
Copyright LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP
By Gael Camba
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"We need to act as Europeans", said the French president, outlining "a major political initiative" for the upcoming months.

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The end of August is approaching, the long French summer holiday season is almost over, and Emmanuel Macron is back with many projects. 

France's president has revealed what his objectives are for his next years in office, in a wide-ranging interview with the French magazine Le Point.

Eyeing up geopolitics, new laws on immigration and reforms to industry and education,  Macron assured he is not a "lame duck", stuck and powerless in a second term dogged by social unrest, riots and a seemingly neverending war in Ukraine.

'Can we leave Ukraine be torn apart and Russia win? No.'

"I hope that Ukraine's counteroffensive can bring everyone around the negotiation table [...] a good negotiation will be the one Ukrainians will want", he says.

Macron put the onus on Moscow to help bring about an end to the fighting: It's "Russia's role to choose which partner it wants to be. Yet, today, Russia is no longer the same as it was in 2021. Vladimir Putin's responsibility is huge."

LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and French President Emmanuel Macron embrace after giving a press conference in at Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv, on June 16, 2022.LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP

The liberal president repeatedly tried to maintain talks with his Russian counterpart at the beginning of the war in Ukraine. 

Today, he says he will be speaking to him again when necessary. Vladimir Putin "feeds into the world's disarray".

'US and China have decided that the WTO is no longer a thing'

Keeping on the topic of instability, Macron claims some of the "frameworks" of the international order have "shattered". 

"The Sino-American dispute endangers the established trade order", he says in reference to the mounting trade war between the world's two biggest economies.  

Macron thinks it's a serious problem for Europe which has to continue to fight for its "unique political and social model". 

France's president claims this geopolitical and trade turmoil has disrupted the world order, adding the upheaval is "not good news for the West."

'France was right to join African nations to fight terrorism'

Amid a rising tide of hostility and competition from other actors - notably Russian Wagner mercenaries - France has pulled out its troops from several countries in Africa, where they were fighting jihadist groups and providing security for the governments. 

"If we hadn't deployed Serval then Barkhane operations, Mali, Burkina Faso and probably Niger would no longer exist," Macron said, claiming these military operations stopped the creation of a new Islamic state kilometres from Europe's coasts. 

"French interventions requested by African states were a success," he added. 

The presence of the old colonial power's troops was heavily criticised by some parts of the local population, while in Mali relations also soured with the country's military rulers. 

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Macron called once more for Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum to be released by the military junta which took over the country on 26 July 2023.

LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron greets Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum as he arrives for a meeting amid the New Global Financial Pact Summit in Paris on June 23, 2023.LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP

As for French influence in Africa, Macron sees it as a "partnership where France defends its interests and backs Africa so it can succeed. It's a real partnership and not a joint sovereignty."

Riots after Nahel's death were 'an act of vengeance'

The killing of a teenage boy in a Parisian suburb on 27 June 2023 sparked major riots in France. 

17-year-old Nahel - of Moroccan and Algerian descent - was dead shot by police officers in a roadside check, which some said highlighted deep-seated issues of racism and police violence in France. 

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Violent unrest ripped France apart for about nine days during which 3,915 people were arrested. Among them, 1244 were underage and 742 have now been convicted to jail time.

"We have been unyielding. [...] That's why it only lasted a couple of days," says Macron. "It was a tremendous surge of violence [...] there was no political message, nor a social nor a religious one."

Aurelien Morissard / AP
A riot police officer walks in front of a fire on the third night of protests sparked by the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old driver in the Paris suburb of Nanterre.Aurelien Morissard / AP

Analysing the riots, he alleged social media played a massive role. Snapchat and mostly the "Snap Map" functionality is thought to have enabled rioters to identify "hotspots" where looting, violence and fires were in full swing.

He also indicates that familial and educative structures have imploded. "An enormous amount of people arrested came from a single-parent family or from child welfare services."

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France has a long history of racism and violence against its “non-white” population, with police long accused of disproportionately targeting Arab and Black people. 

Nahel was shot at point-blank range, trying to drive away from officers in a traffic stop. 

Emergency executive powers could be used to pass immigration law

Macron said he wants to avoid a repetition of the major political crisis prompted by a reform to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. 

His flagship pension reform was allowed to pass Parliament without a vote thanks to a special constitutional power.

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France's leader has drafted a controversial immigration bill. He wants to negotiate with the opposition to build effective support for it, but has not ruled out using these powers to force it through the National Assembly. 

"We need results, so if such a bill is blocked, I won't deny myself from using it."

"I won't deny myself from using it"
Emmanuel Macron
French President

This bill would cut illegal immigration and be strict regarding foreigners who threatened public order. Reducing asylum requests examination period is also mentioned, but the most hotly debated part is provisions to allow foreigners who are "highly sought after professionals" to obtain a residence permit. 

While the right wing is clear in saying this measure would mean the government is crossing a red line, Macron's left wing is weaker in defending itself and supporting this proposition. 

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The French President will have to be nimble and cautious at the risk of losing support from the left and right-wing for this bill.

Climate change: European domestic industry is Macron's solution

Macron finally turns to climate change, trying to balance it against the needs of the economy. 

"I defend an idea of ecology that requires progress, projects, common sense and solutions within the scope of scientific analysis", says the French head of state.

"Europe has a choice: It can be a wonderful market for rich consumers supported by public funding who will buy some Netflix, some ChatGPT, some Chinese electric vehicles and solar panels along with American digital technology; or it can manufacture on its soil electric vehicles and be a stakeholder of AI."

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PASCAL ROSSIGNOL / POOL / AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron visits the Aluminium Dunkerque factory in Dunkirk, the city picked by Taiwanese company ProLogium to build a battery gigafactory plant.PASCAL ROSSIGNOL / POOL / AFP

Even though rebuilding sovereignty over outsourced industry can seem a good plan, it is not a solution to climate change according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

Their reports underlined multiple times "that only a GDP non-growth/degrowth or post-growth approach enable reaching climate stabilisation below 2°C".

"We need to act as Europeans"
Emmanuel Macron
French President

Yet, producing less to emit less greenhouse effect gas is not that simple as the IPCC concludes "substantial challenges remain regarding political feasibility".

"We need to act as Europeans", says Macron. "The idea of a European power was seen as a French fad just five years ago."

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The French President has been relentless in saying Europe should defend its production, military and geopolitical capability. "Shared European investments in climate, defence and AI are at the heart of the upcoming European venture."

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