Macron promises ‘letter to France’ in New Year speech
French President Emmanuel Macron has addressed the ongoing unrest in the country in his New Year wishes speech, with a promised follow up “letter to the French people” expected in the next few days.
In a 16-minute speech broadcast on Monday December 31 at 20h, Mr Macron used the traditional New Year wishes statement to reflect on the year, and offer three goals for France in 2019, including the promise of a “letter” to “re-open the debate”.
He said: “The year did not spare us from intense emotions.”
While he repeatedly acknowledged the upheaval and discontent of 2018, the President was also clear that many reforms by his government were positive, and would continue.
He especially noted reform of apprenticeships, hospitals and healthcare; reducing poverty and helping disabled people; fighting climate change; and improving unemployed people’s access to work.
He said: “Results are not immediate. But impatience [to see results], which I share, does not justify any renunciation. We cannot work less and earn more, drop taxes and raise spending, and not change any of our habits and still breathe clean air.”
Mr Macron referred implicitly to the ongoing gilets jaunes protests, which continued on New Year’s Eve and into January 1, with more movements planned for this weekend.
He said: “Anger broke out. It was a long time coming”, and called the upheaval “unprecedented”.
He blamed a “too-complex administrative system”, “sometimes-incomprehensible globalisation” and “deep changes that question society’s identity and direction” for the unrest, and said that the government was “not resigned” to it.
The President also warned of other international challenges to France, and said that the country would “surmount them together”.
These included, he said, threats to the post-war international order established after 1945, the rise of extremism in Europe, the proliferation of “fake news”, Islamic terror, “ultra-liberal capitalism”, and “deep technological changes” from artificial intelligence.
Mr Macron said that 2019 would be “a decisive year”, that would allow France to “leave the sometimes flagrant state of denial that we have been in for several years...we can do better, and we must do better”.
The President then confirmed that “the national debate that is opening will allow us to really talk”, and said: “I will write to you in a few days to clarify your expectations.”
The promise of a letter came as Mr Macron wished for “dignity” for all French people.
He said: “I am deeply convinced that every citizen is necessary for the nation. We have some citizens who do not feel respected, who feel overlooked, and feel that their lives are being ruined. I recognise these legitimate demands, and we must go further [to reply].”
Mr Macron added: “We must give democracy back its vitality...our institutions must continue to evolve. But dignity also means respect for each person…[away] from a hateful crowd.”
He said: “[Attacking] law enforcement, journalists, Jews, foreigners and gay people damages France. Republican order will be assured...because I expect respect for life and society from everyone.”
The President then thanked the police, firefighters, military personnel, gendarmeries, healthcare workers and ministers for their help during recent weeks.
Mr Macron finished his speech with a wish for “hope for ourselves, for a common future, and for Europe”. He said that his plans for a “renewed European project” would be proposed in the next few weeks, ahead of the “all important” European elections on May 26.
He also sought to distance himself from common accusations of being “a Paris president...for the rich”, and said that, having been brought up in “the provinces”, he “understood the upheaval of the land”.
He said: “I am at work, proud of our country, proud of all French people, and determined to lead us in all our battles, present and future. Because I believe in us, [and] I believe in the power of the French and Europeans.”
As he promised, President Macron is now set to write a letter to the French to “open the debate”, but details remain slight. It is not clear if the letter will be published nationally, or whether the letter will be sent by La Poste to all households.
Former communication adviser to President Nicolas Sarkozy said: “When you write...you give back trust to the reader. Spoken words and tweets can fly away [but] when it’s written down, it sticks.”
Mr Macron is not the first President to address the French people in this way; François Mitterrand and Mr Sarkozy both wrote handwritten missives to the public, in 1988 and 2012 respectively.
But while Mr Mitterrand was elected to another term in office after his; Mr Sarkozy was not so lucky.
Sign up to our free weekly e-newsletter
Subscribe to access all our online articles and receive our printed monthly newspaper The Connexion at your home. News analysis, features and practical help for English-speakers in France