Versailles/Paris: France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, told parliament in a ceremonial address on Monday that he would seek direct approval from voters in a referendum if parliament failed to sign off his intended institutional reforms quickly enough.
Elected only two months ago by a hefty majority, Macron told the lawmakers of both houses, summoned especially to the Palace of Versailles, that he wanted to cut the number of lawmakers by a third, curb the executive’s role in naming magistrates, and introduce a “dose” of proportional representation.
Macron’s upstart Republic on the Move (LREM) party has secured a comfortable majority in the National Assembly, but France’s youngest leader since Napoleon made clear his impatience to complete the reshaping of the political landscape that he has begun.
“The French people are not driven by patient curiosity, but by an uncompromising demand. It is a profound transformation that they expect,” Macron told the specially convened joint session of parliament.
“I want all these deep reforms that our institutions seriously need to be done within a year. These reforms will go to parliament but, if necessary, I will put them to voters in a referendum.”
Macron, whose centrist platform has routed both the traditional rightist and leftist parties of government, is not the first French leader to convene a so-called Congress of both houses, though past presidents have tended to use it in times of crisis or for constitutional reforms.
Macron’s aides had said that, by bringing parliament’s 925 lawmakers to the 17th century palace built outside Paris by Louis XIV – the ‘Sun King’ – the president was seeking to restore old-fashioned grandeur to the role.
Macron himself has said he plans a “Jupiterian” presidency – as a remote, dignified figure, like the Roman god of gods, who weighs his rare pronouncements carefully. It would be a marked break from his unpopular and often-mocked predecessor Francois Hollande’s man-of-the-people style.
“The first act of an unchallenged presidency” read the cover of the newspaper Liberation, showing a god-like, bare-chested Macron in a Roman toga holding bolts of lightning.
While many in France still hold dear the trappings of presidential power, Macron’s style has grated with others who lament the strong powers that the constitution drawn up by the war hero Charles de Gaulle bestows on the presidency.
A commanding parliament majority, including dozens of legislators who are new to politics, has tightened Macron’s grip further still.
Beyond the plans for institutional reform, Macron’s speech had few concrete announcements, and no specifics on the far more controversial measures that he plans, most notably in liberalising a highly regulated labour market.
Many of those were likely to be sketched out by Macron’s prime minister, Edouard Philippe, when he addresses parliament on Tuesday.
Opposition lawmakers from the far-left France Unbowed and Communist parties boycotted Macron’s address, and about 100 Communists wearing the red caps of the French revolutionaries of 1789 demonstrated in front of Versailles’ town hall.
“Mr Macron is a challenge to democracy,” said Nicole Coulbaut, a 65-year old retired teacher and Communist activist. “For him, it’s not parliament or the people who govern, but himself, Jupiter.”