President Emmanuel Macron promised to reform labour laws and parliament, slash the number of politicians, end the state of emergency and place France at the centre of a new European Union in a speech to MPs and senators at Versailles.
In his 90-minute address to politicians from both houses of the French Parliament at the former royal palace, Mr Macron repeated his campaign pledge to cut the number of politicians by a third within a year.
“The French people made the choice of a country that gets going again, that rediscovers optimism and hope,” he said of his election victory, and of his Republique En Marche party’s parliamentary majority.
“The French expect a profound transformation,” he said.
Urging lawmakers accept parliamentary reforms that would see many of those present losing their jobs, he warned that he would call a referendum if necessary. As well as the 577 MPs in the Assembly, the Senate currently has 348 members.
He promised to introduce a ‘dose of proportional representation’ at the next parliamentary elections in 2022 – and said he would revise the ‘right to petition’ to boost public interest and participation in government.
He proposed that some ‘simple’ bills be voted on in parliament’s commissions instead of in plenary sessions, to speed up the lawmaking process, and vowed again to crack down on political corruption.
Turning to the future of Europe, he said the bloc should accept the UK’s decision to leave, and concentrate on reform, claiming: “More than ever we need Europe but it has become weakened by divisions and doubt.”
As part of his union-wide reform plan, he announced that France and Germany would launch “democratic conventions” across Europe by the end of 2017 to discuss the future of the bloc.
He said he understood why many Europeans see the EU as bureaucratic and distant, insisting: “I firmly believe in Europe, but I don’t find this scepticism unjustified.”
Laying out his political, security and diplomatic priorities, Mr Macron said that he intends to end the state of emergency put in place after terrorists killed 130 people in in Paris in November 2015 this autumn, but vowed to strengthen anti-terrorism laws and work to prevent further attacks.
His government, ‘will work to prevent any new attack, and we will work to combat [terrorism] without pity, without regret, without weakness’. But he insisted on the need to ‘guarantee full respect for individual liberties’.
Mr Macron made his speech a day before Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was due to deliver the government’s traditional policy statement to the 577-seat National Assembly, which was expected to include more details of planned changes to the code du travail.
In keeping with the self-styled ‘revolutionary’ presidency of Mr Macron, this was the first time a new president had made a ‘state of the nation’ address at the start of their term in office – and Mr Macron promised to deliver a speech to lawmakers every year, ‘so the presidency remains accountable’.
It was also the first time a joint parliamentary session had taken place since the immediate aftermath of the November 2015 attacks.
About 50 MPs boycotted the session, accusing Mr Macron of wasting some €200,000 of taxpayers’ money on a high-blown event of self interest. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National and Mr Macron’s rival in May’s presidential run-off, condemned it as a glorified press conference.
“We don’t know any more at the end than we did at the beginning,” she said. “That makes it an expensive press conference.”
Meanwhile, far left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon decided not to attend in protest against what they call the ‘presidential monarchy’ of Mr Macron.