Paris: Emmanuel Macron promised the French a new style of leadership, as he laid out his manifesto just three weeks before the presidential election.
Macron, who has often been accused of being a Jupiterian leader, said on Thursday that his campaign motto ‘With you,’ reflects “a method for the long term.”
He pledged to beef up investments in defence and touted his track record of standing up for France’s interests in the European Union, as well as cutting taxes domestically, in a press conference in Aubervilliers, near Paris.
Here are the main elements in his programme less than a month from the election.
COMPETITIVENESS : Macron said 30 billion euros ($33.3 billion) needed to be invested in various high-growth sectors, in line with a recently launched investment plan. In parallel, 25 billion euros would be invested in research over 10 years.
The government would cut a tax on the value added companies create. The tax generates 7 billion euros in income and is widely despised by executives as it is paid on top of traditional corporate tax.
ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: Macron said that France could be one of the first countries to wean itself off of fossil fuels.
Regulation of the electricity market would be reformed and the state would take control of certain energy companies, suggesting that the government would revive stalled plans to buy out minority shareholders in nuclear utility EDF.
Meanwhile, 700,000 homes would be renovated while a leasing scheme would be set up to make electric vehicles accessible to more people.
LABOUR MARKET AND PENSIONS: Another round of labour reforms would be carried out to streamline relations between employers and unions, while unemployment insurance would be reformed to include new incentives to get people back to work.
Macron said he would put pension reform back on the political agenda after it was shelved at the start of the COVID crisis. The retirement age would be progressively raised to 65 from 62 while making exceptions for certain difficult professions.
Meanwhile, people receiving minimum welfare support payments would have to spend 15-20 hours per week in training programmes aimed at bringing them into the labour market.
Opinion polls show Macron's longtstanding lead over rival candidates has grown in recent weeks, with voters approving of his diplomatic efforts before and during the Ukraine war. He is seen winning the first round of the election on April 10 and beating any opponent in a run-off on April 24th.
"We are at a tipping point where we can make a real difference," Macron told a news conference, highlighting the war on the European Union's doorstep and the global challenge of climate change.
He said his plans for a second term are "anchored in the moment that is ours, that of the return of tragedy in history".
Making France a more self-sufficient country will be a key objective, he said, as he started outlining his platform, with proposals ranging from "investing massively" toward France's agricultural and industrial independence to pushing ahead with building more nuclear reactors and strengthening the
army. The French leader set aside several hours to take questions from journalists in a bid to defuse criticism that he’s barely spent any time officially campaigning. It’s also an attempt to appear more accessible after keeping the press at arms length last time around, and for much of his five-year term.
In some respects, Macron doesn’t need to campaign. His attempts to help end the crisis in Ukraine have drawn scorn and ridicule abroad, with opponents saying he’s been played by Vladimir Putin and has gone too far in trying to appease the Russian president. But at home, he’s benefiting from a sense of national union.
“There is this idea that you don’t want to change your captain in the middle of the storm,” said Adelaide Zulfikarpasic, director of Paris-based BVA Opinion, a pollster.
Indeed, the war has boosted Macron’s approval rating to 51% according to a recent Ifop poll for Paris Match. A BVA poll for RTL-Orange survey put his popularity at 42% in February, already higher than his immediate predecessors at this time in their mandate - Francois Hollande was at 22% in 2017 and Nicolas Sarkozy at 32% in 2012.
All polls show Macron leading both the first round on April 10 and the second round two weeks later. He’d beat his main rival, far-right nationalist leader Marine Le Pen, by at least 12 points in the runoff, according to many surveys. Bookmakers favor Macron to win, with a likelihood of more than 90%.
In trying to appear statesmanlike for as long as possible, Macron delayed announcing his re-election bid until hours before the deadline for the register of candidacies. And he made it clear that he won’t join debates, skipping even live discussions with other candidates about women’s rights and the environment.
While most candidates have been out on the stump, Macron has yet to hold a campaign rally in person. Instead, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer recently led one with only a couple of hundred attendees in Domont, a small town in northern France.
The war in Ukraine reinforced a perception among the French that Macron is a good crisis manager, Zulfikarpasic said, recalling how he survived the Yellow Vests protests and handled Covid-19. The risk is he loses that appeal when the crises ebb.
“If he’s re-elected and gets a more normal mandate,” she said, “with no health crisis or no war, he would be exposed to challenges like handling reforms and be judged by his record.”