France’s Macron Strikes Conservative Stance in Bid to Counter Far Right

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(Bloomberg) -- President Emmanuel Macron laid out a strikingly conservative vision for France on Tuesday as he seeks to revive support for his government and counter the rise of the far right.

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In his third national press conference at the Elysee palace since being elected in 2017, Macron touted security, stronger borders, a reinforced police force, stepping up the fight against drug trafficking and making the labor market more flexible.

Macron is trying to show that his newly reshaped government can both address French citizens’ most pressing concerns — including education, health care, personal safety and purchasing power — and do so in a way that attracts their backing. Time is running short for Macron, with European elections just five months away.

“France will be stronger if we are more united, if we succeed in sharing values, a common culture, a sense of respect,” Macron said. “We must better control our borders, fight incivilities by doubling police presence in our streets, fight drug trafficking and radical Islam.”

The French president unveiled a new cabinet last week as he tries to move on from a bruising year marked by protests against his pension reform, riots over a police shooting of a teenager, and a struggle to push through an immigration bill that highlighted the difficulty of governing without a majority in parliament.

Part of this effort is personified by Gabriel Attal, a 34-year-old rising star who Macron tapped last week to be prime minister, and partly by his decision to put an emphasis on policy moves that either don’t need parliamentary approval or benefit from broad popular support.

According to a Toluna Harris Interactive poll for Challenges magazine, released today, his party currently trails Marine Le Pen’s National Rally by nine points.

“He likes to play with values and big principles; it’s a bet that has worked over time but these big discussions have been losing steam lately,” said Christelle Caplet, head of BVA Opinion, a French polling company. The French “want concrete measures and are way more concerned about purchasing power.”

During his address, Macron took aim at the National Rally, arguing that its policies would leave France weaker and that its leaders are being disingenuous with voters. Despite that, the nationalist party and others like it were resonating with voters.

“I look around us at all the European democracies, including our German neighbors, where we thought it impossible for the far right to make a comeback. It’s here,” he said. “Something is happening.”

The French president also warned that the US was in a state of crisis, and that the necessary preparation for the upcoming US election was to reinforce the European Union.

The US is a “democracy in crisis, whose first priority is itself, and whose second priority is China,” Macron said. “And so all Europeans must be clear-sighted about this. That’s also why I want a stronger Europe that knows how to protect itself and doesn’t depend on others.”

Ukraine Trip

Macron said he would be traveling to Ukraine in February to sign a bilateral defense agreement with the country, making good on a pledge to provide “security guarantees” that he had made in May.

France will also send around 40 more long-range missiles to Ukraine, as well as bombs and Caesar artillery pieces, Macron said.

“The biggest risk is the war in Ukraine,” he said. “We can’t let Russia win. Letting Russia win means accepting that the rules of international order as we know them can be disregarded.”

Macron spent a big chunk of time discussing changes for schools, including doubling the amount of time spent teaching civics in middle school, making theater classes mandatory, expanding time for arts and sports and putting in graduation ceremonies. He also said France would expand its experiment with uniforms at 100 schools and called for children in primary school to learn the national anthem.

A central element of making France stronger will be to unite the French around values and shared culture, and that should start at school, he said.

(Updates with additional Macron comments from the ninth paragraph.)

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