Macron’s Interview, 14th July 2020
Although when he came into power back in 2017, President Emmanuel Macron had said that he would no longer participate in the traditional 14th July interview, he admitted that this year had been unprecedented and as such, he was making an exception.
Here’s a breakdown of what was said when he was interviewed from the Elysée by French TV channels TF1 and France 2.
Traditionally, the 14th July is a day to celebrate the French military (in homage to the Garde Nationale, the people’s army, who stormed the Bastille during the Revolution of 1789) but this year, thanks and celebration were also shared with the health professionals who have so valiantly fought to protect us during the Covid 19 epidemic.
The crisis is not over, the virus is still present and the country now also faces significant economic difficulties. As such the 14th July is a poignant moment to take stock of the gravity of the situation.
The protests that have marked Macron’s presidency (les gilets jaunes, the train strikes, retirement reforms…) are an expression of France’s identity and history. Macron also conceded that he had unintentionally come across as wanting to protect the rich and powerful; something that he reiterates is “pas mon projet”.
While criticism, debate and protest are all valuable assets of democracy, he denounced hatred, radicalism violence and brutality as unacceptable and destructive to freedom. He accepted that he had not been able to fulfil his promise of reconciling the French people but promised that he would not give up on trying.
He cited the obstacles and difficulties that France has been confronted with in recent years: the Nice terrorist attacks, the gilets jaunes, mass unemployment,.. and claimed that one of the major problems was a Republican meritocracy, alluding to the whims of a certain “ami américain”.
He refused to accept that the initial course planned for his presidency was the wrong one.
He justified the sweeping reforms that he wanted to implement as the reason he was elected : to modernise the country, to move forward and progress, giving responsibility, independence and agency back to the French people. Indeed, the rate of unemployment fell to under 8%.
All the results were moving in the right direction but nevertheless, confidence was low, worsened by the Covid 19 crisis. That is why he named a new prime minister, Jean Castex (former mayor of Prades), who in turn formed a new government (see below).
Macron was very insistant: this does not equate to a change of manifesto, but rather a change to the means of achieving it. The final goal remains a stronger, more independent France in an autonomous Europe, where each individual can live better.
The new approach will be based on social dialogue and collaboration between elected officials.
The proposed retirement reforms will not be pushed through but equally they cannot be abandoned. New discussions will take place on how best to provide for the retiring population (Macron would not be drawn on what forms this may take).
According to the interviewers, the French public considered that the previous premier ministre, Eduoard Philippe, had done “un bon job” and that he did not deserve to be replaced; a sentiment that Macron echoed before emphasising that he wanted to turn the page politically and start with a fresh, new team.
The interviewers were quick to jump on the fact that the “new” team doesn’t actually seem all that new: the replacement prime minister is of the same right-leaning political persuasion, the same civil service background and the same age as his predecessor, albeit with an “accent du sud-ouest”.
Macron claimed to be in radical disagreement with the suggestion that the new government is leading France on a path towards the right. He said that the response to Covid is about what is effective and just, not left or right and that both sides are more or less equally represented.
Reducing violence against women was one of Macron’s main pledges during his election campaign and as such, the interviewers questioned the naming of Gérald Darmanin, accused of 2 counts of rape, as Minsitre de l’Intérieur.
Initially avoiding the question, he instead listed the measures he has already taken and the new ones he plans to take in September (new laws, more places in shelters, electronic bracelets, helplines…).
When pushed to comment, he cited the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the fact that the case had been closed or given rise to no further action on several occasions. He said that he did not want France to become a “démocratie d’opinion” as in the worst of Anglo-Saxon societies.
Championing daily, transparent information sharing, Macron confirmed that the first spike has passed. Sharing his thoughts with the families of the more than 30 000 people who have died from Covid 19 in France, he saluted the French people and said that they could be proud of themselves.
Nevertheless, uncertainty remains. In France, the R effectif (R rate) is creeping back up, doctors and hospitals are receiving more calls and so, he said, we must prevent and prepare. Respecting the gestes barrières (social distancing), wearing a mask, using hydro-alcoholic gel… these are the best ways of preventing the propagation of the virus but we are now seeing a weakening of resolve.
That is why, as of
Saturday 1st August [update by Prime Minister Jean Castex on 16th July] Monday or Tuesday of next week (20th / 21st July), masks will be obligatory in enclosed public spaces. It is already in place, and working, on public transport and in restaurants but will now be enforced in shops and other indoor spaces.
Obligatory mask wearing is not something that can be enforced over night, it requires preparation and organisation, which is why the law will be implemented from the 1st August. Be that as it may, between now and then, mask-wearing is strongly recommended when out and about.
Current weekly testing is around 370 000. The health minister, Olivier Véran wanted 700 000, but although the capacity is feasible, the demand for tests is low. As such, the government is doing away with the need for a prescription. Any person who fears or doubts infection will be able to get tested.
Macron confirmed that if there is indeed a second wave, the country will be ready. During the first wave, estimations of needs were surpassed 10 fold, which lead to short comings and lack of equipment. France has learned from this experience and now has a sufficient stock of masks, ventilators, medication etc…
Given the inequalities and social consequences of lockdown, if a second wave comes, confinement will be conducted as locally as possible.
Different statistical organisations have predicted that by spring 2021, between 800 000 and 1 million people will be unemployed in France. Culture has been hard hit but also commerce, tourism and the building sector.
In preparation for this, France will act to defend existing jobs and create new jobs in expanding sectors.
The chômage partiel (furlough) implemented in France was the most generous scheme in Europe, and consequently the most expensive. Replacement salaries, government loans, postponing and even exoneration of certain expenses prevented a number of lay offs but now the bill needs to be paid and some employees are faced with the choice of a salary reduction or redundancy.
Traversing this difficult economic unknown, will, once again, require social dialogue. If employees are making an effort by accepting salary cuts, the shareholders must also make an effort by sharing the dividends.
The government will make an effort by investing €30 billion in training programmes in sectors that will create jobs: thermal renovation of buildings, hydrogen etc. They will particularly support young people as they transition into the workplace, encouraging employers to prioritise apprenticeships as opposed to internships and creating 300 000 projects and placements.
Taxes & finances
Macron said that raising taxes was not the answer to the current economic crisis. He is sticking to his promise to reduce the taxe d’habitation and will not reinstate the ISF (impôt de solidarité sur la fortune – wealth tax), which was transformed into the impôt sur la fortune immobilière (property tax), thus abolishing the tax on capital that is reinvested in companies and shares.
Refusing to increase taxes on higher earners is a calculated choice, designed to encourage investment and maintain France’s position as the most attractive in Europe.
Macron will however be pushing for European funding to help reconstruct France. He also spoke of the importance of the accord franco-allemand, the joint project between France and Germany for a stronger, autonomous Europe.
A referendum could be held on whether to amend Article 1 of the constitution to include the protection of biodiversity and the fight against climate change. A referendum would first need to be voted by the Assemblée and the Sénat but Macron hopes this can be done as soon as possible.
A new grant is soon to be available for ecological and energy-saving home renovations, prioritising low-income households but also open to everyone. The government will undertake ecological refits of state buildings such as schools and EPHADS (établissement d’hébergement pour personnes âgées dépendantes – old peoples’ homes).
Subsidies for replacing vehicles with low-emission vehicles have already seen over 800 000 people change their car; a programme that will be continued and expanded. Low-emission zones will also be established to combat air pollution.
The government are going to redevelop rail travel and freight in a bid to reduce air traffic.
Macron believes that France can become a great industrial nation again, thanks to and through ecology.
Macron confirmed that there is still discrimination in France, in terms of education in terms of access to senior public service positions, in terms of representation. He spoke of the importance of rebuilding trust between the police and the people, and promised that the new government would discuss this in detail before the end of his current term.
Macron spoke about the need for long-term, 10 year plans in order to rebuild a strong and independent France. He would not, however, be drawn on whether he will stand for president again in the next elections. He deplored the rate of abstention during the recent municipal elections (almost 60%!) and attributed it to a deeply flawed system.
You can access a complete transcript of the interview on the Elysée website.