French president faces criticism for making rare address to both houses of parliament at regal Versailles.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, will make a rare address to both houses of parliament on Monday in the gilded setting of the palace of Versailles, setting out his vision for a “transformation” of France.
But some opposition MPs on the left will boycott the gathering in the regal setting, accusing him of a “monarchical” drift.
Macron has summoned members of parliament and senators to Versailles, where he will make a sweeping speech about a French “renaissance”. The speech has been billed as a US-style state of the nation address. It is unheard of for a French president to make this gesture at the start of a presidency.
Macron will set out a raft of changes from the loosening of labour laws to institutional changes to the workings of parliament.
Much is at stake in the president’s speech. Polling shows French voters, who abstained in large numbers in last month’s parliament elections, want swift proof that Macron’s proposed altering of labour laws and changes to the French social safety net will bring down mass unemployment and ensure protections from economic gloom.
The planned address in the former seat of French kings provoked anger among leftist parliament members who announced they would boycott the meeting and attend a simultaneous street rally in Paris’s Place de la République.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, head of the leftist France Unbowed group, which has 17 MPs, accused “Macron the pharaoh” of crossing a line in his “monarchical” approach to the presidency. The Communist party’s members of parliament also said they would boycott the speech and protest. Two members of the small centrist UDI party said they would not attend, complaining about the cost of the exercise.
Macron’s new party, La République En Marche, which defines itself as “neither left nor right”, won a solid parliamentary majority last month. This has been bolstered by members of some other parties saying they would support the government’s key proposals.
This gives Macron a free hand for his agenda to change labour protections. But the first sittings of parliament have seen heated rows about the size of Macron’s majority.
“When you do not share power you may be more efficient but you are also perhaps a little less democratic,” said Christian Jacob, the parliamentary leader of the main opposition rightwing party, Les Républicans, after some of his own members broke away to support Macron.
Monday’s Versailles speech is seen as shaping Macron’s personalised approach to the presidency.
In 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy made constitutional changes to allow a French president to directly address both houses of parliament at Versailles. Prior to that, discussion with lawmakers was the preserve of the prime minister. A president could only address both houses through a written message read out by the prime minister.
There have only been two presidential addresses at Versailles before – once in 2009 when Sarkozy discussed the fallout from the financial crisis and announced plans to ban full-face Muslim veils, and once by the Socialist president François Hollande in 2015 after the Paris terrorist attacks.
The timing of Macron’s speech is crucial – his address comes the day before the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, is due to give his opening speech to parliament setting out the details of structural reforms, including the changes to loosen the French labour code to ease rules on businesses.
The prime minister denied Macron was trying to steal his thunder, insisting the president would set out his vision for changes in France and it would fall to the prime minister to detail how it would be achieved.