The speech that never was: Macron's shelved address before Notre-Dame fire

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Marc Preel and Baptiste Pace
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Paris (AFP) - Minutes before receiving the news that Notre-Dame cathedral was consumed by flames French President Emmanuel Macron had recorded a solemn message to the nation.

But the highly-anticipated speech on Monday, in which he had planned to set out his recipe for ending five months of often violent "yellow vest" protests, never made it onto TV screens.

Macron cancelled it to rush to the bedside of France's fire-scarred 850-year-old landmark, vowing to rebuild Notre-Dame.

AFP has now seen a copy of the text of the cancelled speech, which set out several measures aimed at tackling inequality -- a key gripe of the "yellow vests" -- without a radical shift in policy.

Macron's office refused to confirm the leaks, saying: "Today, the president and the prime minister, are prioritising the end of the operation to save Notre-Dame".

The president addressed the nation Tuesday with his comments devoted to rebuilding Notre-Dame. But he also made an oblique reference to the shelved speech.

"I will return to you in the next days so that we can act," said Macron in the televised address, warning against "false impatience".

"Tomorrow politics and its tumult will resume... but now that moment has not come," he said.

- Lowering taxes -

In the shelved speech, Macron had vowed to lower taxes on the middle classes -- a measure he says he will pay for by cracking down tax evasion.

He also promises a review in 2020 of his highly unpopular decision to cut a "fortune solidarity tax" on high earners.

Macron has always defended the move, over which he was labelled "the president of the rich" by his leftist critics, as necessary to encourage investment in France.

But he tells the French that he is ready to "make all the modifications and corrections necessary" to the levy if the review shows that it was not translating into investment and jobs.

- Measures for 'forgotten France' -

Macron also makes concessions to demands by voters for ordinary citizens be given more of a say in law-making.

He says he favours more citizen-sponsored referendums on local issues.

However he stops short at allowing such ballots on issues of national importance -- a key demand of the yellow vests -- proposing instead to simplify a rarely-used constitutional provision allowing MPs and citizens to band together to try oppose draft laws.

Other measures include:

- Scrapping the elite ENA college in Paris for senior public servants of which he, like several former presidents, is a graduate.

- Implementing inflation-linked increases for small pensions.

- Adding more public servants in outlying areas that feel abandoned by the state while reducing their numbers in central administrations in Paris.

The measures were drawn up after a major voter-listening exercise launched by Macron in January to take the heat out of the "yellow vest" protests.

Hundreds of thousands of people took part in debates in community halls across the country between January 15 and March 15.

Macron himself spent over 90 hours discussing policy with local officials and citizens. At the weekend he had promised to "transform the anger into solutions".