The French government “can do better” at improving the lives the country’s citizens, President Emmanuel Macron has said in his highly-anticipated New Year’s Eve address as “yellow vest” protesters again took to the streets in parts of the country.
“We can do better and must do better,” Macron said in a 16-minute televised speech from the Elysee palace on Monday.
But the 41-year-old centrist also struck an unapologetic note as he urged voters to to “accept the reality” that increased public spending was not the answer to their problems, as well as face up to economic realities underpinning recently enacted reforms.
“In recent years, we’ve engaged in a blatant denial of reality,” Macron said in the address, delivered – unusually – from a standing position. “We can’t work less, earn more, cut taxes and increase spending.”
The speech came at the end of a torrid period for Macron, whose leadership has been severely rattled by six weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
“I believe in us,” he said, as he attempted to turn the page on the crisis and start 2019 on an upbeat note..
Citing hopes for more “truth, dignity and hope” in 2019, he urged the French: “Let’s stop running ourselves down and making believe that France is a country where solidarity doesn’t exist.”
“We live in one of the biggest economies in the world, with some of the best infrastructure in the world, we pay little or nothing for our children’s schooling and we are treated by excellent doctors at some of the lowest costs in the developed world,” he said.
While acknowledging the need for improved public services, particularly in rural areas where the yellow vest movement sprang up over anger at fuel taxes, he noted that public spending already amounted to over half of the country’s output.