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France

Macron promises spending cuts, pension and dole reform in address to parliament

media Emmanuel Macron approaches his audience at Versailles REUTERS/Charles Platiau

French President Emmanuel Macron outlined his plans for the coming year in a speech to both houses of parliament meeting together on Monday. He said that plans to cut state spending will be unveiled in the next few weeks.

Macron is only the third French president to address the Congress, as the event is called, meeting with great pomp and circumstance at the former royal palace in Versailles.

He follows Nicolas Sarkozy, who called the first one during the world financial crisis in 2009, and François Hollande, who summoned the Congress after the 13 November 2015 Paris attacks.

The president repeated his intention to make the meeting, which cost some 290,000 euros this year, an annual event, much to the disgust of the hard-left France Unbowed, which boycotted the meeting, as did some mainstream right politicians.

"I've not forgotten the fears and anger accumulated over the years," he told the parliamentarians before reviewing his first year in office.

The work of strengthening the economy and redressing social injustices has begun, he said.

Institutional reform has taken its time "and we are aware of that", Macron continued, as parliament begins the debate on changes to the constitution.

Help business, cut spending

In response to charges that he is a president of the rich, he defended his government's changes to wealth tax "not to help the rich but to help business" and went on to explain that his policy of helping investors was his way of fighting poverty and unemployment.

"A pro-business policy is not a policy for the rich," he declared. "It's a policy for the whole nation, a policy for jobs, a policy for public services.

"If you want to share out the cake, the first condition is that there should be a cake. And it is companies, consisting of bosses, shareholders and workers, that are the producers who make the cake."

The government's task was to "favour economic inititiative and job creation", Macron said, promising to continue cutting taxes and encouraging investment so that France can be a laboratory of new technologies.

Plans to reduce state expenditure will be announced "in the coming weeks", he said.

Protecting the environment is not incompatible with economic growth, Macron insisted, promising to help the development of agriculture while respecting nature and citizens' health.

Education and inequality

Inequality in France is less differences in income than differences in background and the government must tackle the roots of this "inequality of fate", according to the president.

The government's policy "should not be to help people live in the conditions in which they live but help them to get out of them", he said, pointing to education as "more efficient than all the policies of redistribution of wealth".

Reform of education and apprenticeship and "emancipation through work" was Macron's recipe for tackling youth unemployment and inequality.

The French way must be to "combine economic progress and social progress", he said, promising changes to France's social security system, which is "not suited to an economy of innovation and competence".

Pension, social security reform

Work on the pensions and retirement system will start next year, he said, while insisting that "nothing will change for today's pensioners", a statement that was greeted with incredulous laughter from some of the opposition benches.

Work on the pensions and retirement system will start next year, he said, while insisting that "nothing will change for today's pensioners", a statement that was greeted with incredulous laughter from some of the opposition benches.

"Pensions are not a right for which you have paid contributions all your life," he said, criticising the current French system for being "redistributive". "Pensions are paid by those who are in work today."

Unemployment insurance will also be reformed: "Everyone should be protected. But everyone should have responsibilities."

A plan to fight poverty will be presented in September - "not new handouts" but assistance in returning to the world of work.

Terrorism, culture, Islam, immigration

Terrorism and international change have given rise to "cultural and civilisational fears", Macron said, concluding that the state must "restore order and republican respect", strengthen the police, reform the legal system and improve the overloaded prison system.

France has no more of a quarrel with Islam than with any other religion, Macron said, but some people interpret in a way that clashes with France's values, such as women's rights and freedom of expression.

Work on a framework for Islam's place in the French republic will begin in the autumn.

France must accept its duties in offering asylum to people who have the right to it but cannot take in economic migrants, Macron said.

To help those "who do not have the right to asylum", France and the rest of Europe must work to change relations with Africa, he argued. To fight aggressive nationalism, the Europe Union must take up France's proposals for change, notably Macron's call for a eurozone budget.

The true border in Europe, he said, is the one that separates "progressives" and "nationalists".

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