President Macron’s Announcements: A Long-Awaited Response to Nearly Half a Year of Street Protests

Over the past six months, the momentum of the Emmanuel Macron presidency has been brought down following the beginning of the anti-government “yellow vest” movement, which has held weekly protests against social inequality. President Macron’s main mission on Thursday was to present the conclusions of the “Grand Débat,” a two-month listening tour that took him to high schools and community centers across the country, taking stock of grievances from local officials and constituents who felt left behind in an increasingly globalized economy. Macron’s bet was that it might help to quell the yellow vest protests, as well as redeem his faltering presidency. Did this speech represent a turning point in his presidency?

Everything changes so that nothing changes

Raising working hours, lowering taxes, no fewer civil servants, more PR at elections, fewer MPs; reform of the National Administration School (ENA); decentralization of the state administration etc…

Beyond these announcements, the French President insisted that order must return and acknowledged a “lack of trust” of the French people in the public authorities. He also stated that the demands at the heart of the yellow vest movement was fair, and recognized that he may have appeared as arrogant, and far away from the people living in rural areas without an efficient public transportation system. “The feeling I gave was a form of permanent injunction, to be harsh, (and) sometimes unfair. I regret that. First(ly), because it’s not who I am deep down, and (secondly) because I think it didn’t help the cause,” he said.

But, such was not the burden from tonight’s marathon press conference. The overall message was not what must now change, but what must remain the same. He claimed that, “the transformations that are in progress and the transformations that are essential for our country should not be stopped,” and “the actions of some people eclipse the just demands that were put forward at the start of this movement and were broadly supported.” That is the overarching “orientation” of his presidency. The reforms enacted so far, on tax, labour and education, are the right ones and they are working. There will be more to come.

A speech for France, not the Yellow Vests

In fact, with these announcements, the President is trying to balance the expectations of the social democrats with those of the majority party’s Liberals. One important thing is that these proposals do not seem to be aimed specifically at Yellow Vests proponents, but to all French people. The President’s wish was that the whole of France should feel listened to and understood.

Many of his remarks — on secularism, immigration and free movement between European countries — seemed to play into themes that transcended France’s domestic malaise. A telling example is that he spoke about “The art of being French.” Nobody knows what being French exactly means, but what matters here for President Macron is to overcome the Yellow Vests debate and offer a common project to everyone, to a society deeply divided.

To conclude, even if these presidential announcements are significant, they have not had a much desired effect and French people have not applauded them. According to the latest Harris Interactive study, conducted after Emmanuel Macron’s press conference, 63% of respondents were not convinced by his announcements. Will it be enough to relaunch his presidency? Only time has the answer, until then, it is up to the Government to implement the President’s (not so) new orientations.

Authored by Interel France’s Kaissa Brennemann and Moncef Lameche.