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France

Eye on France: Macron faces the nation, again

media French President Emmanuel Macron at a press conference at the Elysée Palace, 17 December, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/Pool

French leader Emmanuel Macron will make the traditional New Year’s address to the nation tonight. The French papers devote a lot of space to guessing what he might say. This will, in fact, be the president's second television appearance in less than a month, the first having been the attempt, on 10 December, to put out the fires of Yellow Vest anger.

Broadly speaking, expect more of the same. Humility, understanding, compassion.

With, perhaps, a timid reminder that the French economy is going backwards and that the presidential reform programme is still very much a live issue. Because, without those reforms, France will lose all European and international credibility.

Remember that, two weeks ago, even while giving in across the board to Yellow Vest demands, Macron refused to reverse his position on wealth tax, insisting that too much fiscal hardship will simply scare capital away from an economy that needs to attract investment.

Centrist daily Le Monde says the president faces a delicate balancing act on the threshold of 2019, since he still has a lot of changes to make but is no longer the popular young hope of the post-election euphoria of 18 months ago.

Looking the other way!

Right-wing Le Figaro looks back on 2018, a year which the conservative paper describes, with fairly typical understatement, as Macron's "descent into hell".

Le Figaro’s editorial, entitled “The other reform,” is a classic, even by their own high standards.

Reading the article, we learn that the only thing the French president forgot in his triumphant march towards a brave new nation, was the French people.

Specifically those French people Macron humiliated with his dismissive phrases; they live far from urban centres, struggle to pay their bills, are terrified that French culture will be undermined by those who refuse to accept republican values, by rampant Islamic militants, by the uncontrolled influx of immigrants.

Le Figaro offers no estimate of how many such French people there might be out there, but you sense that they are myriad. And they are angry. Thanks to us in the media, they have now become a political force with which to be reckoned.

President Macron must reform himself! He has to change his image (too arrogant), his language (too fancy), and his attitude (too distant). Tonight’s prime-time TV performance will be his first chance to prove that the man who two weeks ago promised to listen to the voice of the ordinary French person meant what he said.

What's another year?

Business daily Les Echos looks back to the same presidential exercise one year ago and sees a man undermined by the Benalla affair, in which one of Macron's senior household staff is suspected of thuggery, forgery, fraud and fractiousness.

The past twelve months have also seen two respected ministers – Nicolas Hulot at Environment, Gérard Collomb at the Interior – jump from the government ship.

To say nothing of the Yellow Vest protests in which the little people of France have rallied around their mobile phones to bring an audacious president to his knees.

We are likely to hear more presidential humility tonight, warns financial paper Les Echos. The crucial question is how that will affect Macron’s capacity to continue his ambitious reform programme.

London prepares to leave Europe to its fate

With nine weeks to go to the departure of Britain from the European Union, a lot of financial experts are still wondering if they should keep the luxury flat in London or sell-up and move to Paris, Frankfurt or Dublin. This is in Les Echos.

As the politicians in Westminster continue to rage over the terms under which they will allow the Continent to cut itself off from the United Kingdom, many major banks, currently based in London, have decided to leave their plans for after Brexit flexible.

Two things have contributed to this leave-it-to-the-last-minute policy, according to Les Echos. The first is the uncertainty surrounding employment contracts in the wake of a “hard” Brexit, that is, if Britain leaves without a deal. No one knows what the status of foreign traders in London will be after the day of the big break. The second problem is that banks which had been planning to repatriate key French financial staff to Paris are, since the outbreak of the Yellow Vest movement, now worried about possible changes to the social and economic climate here in France.

The Finance Ministry in Paris says that’s a lot of tosh, with political instability in the UK far more serious than the rumblings in France. It's more or less what you'd expect them to say.

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