French President Macron uses broad news conference to show his leadership hasn't faded

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French President Emmanuel Macron answers a question during his first prime-time news conference to announce his top priorities for the year as he seeks to revitalize his presidency, vowing to focus on "results" despite not having a majority in parliament, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024 at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron made a point of showing his leadership hasn’t faded in more than two hours of answering questions at a news conference in which he promised a stronger France to face the world's challenges.

“I still have three years and a half in office,” he said, describing an ambition to both change the daily life of the French and tackle global crises.

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Macron's wide-ranging news conference followed the appointment last week of France's youngest-ever prime minister.

The 46-year-old centrist president promised “audacity, action, efficiency” in the hopes of strengthening his legacy through a series of reforms, starting with an economic bill meant to boost growth and tax cuts for middle-class households.

He also detailed how he would preserve France’s struggling health system and accelerate changes at schools. He advocated for uniforms in public schools, learning the national anthem at a young age and expanding a two-week training period in high schools to promote French values and encourage youth to give back to the community.

With no majority in parliament, Macron suggested many of the changes could be implemented without passing new laws.

The French president vowed to make France “stronger” to face global crises, announcing plans to deliver more long-range cruise missiles as well as bombs to Ukraine. He also proposed a joint initiative with Qatar to mediate a deal between Israel and Hamas to allow the delivery of medications to around 45 of the more than 100 Israeli hostages held captive in Gaza.

He also suggested that he’d find ways to work with Donald Trump in the event that he wins another presidency.

Under growing pressure from an emboldened far-right ahead of June’s European elections, he denounced the National Rally as “the party of the lies.” He warned about the “danger zone” as voters across Europe are increasingly choosing the far-right.

We must tackle issues that “make people vote for them,” he said, including fighting unemployment and better controlling immigration.

“Basically, the National Rally has become the party of easy anger,” he added. “Let’s not get used to it.”

Macron also mentioned with irony the many wannabe-candidates for the next presidential election, including far-right leader Marine Le Pen who already said she intends to run again.

“I realize that a lot of people were getting nervous about 2027,” Macron said. “But I also realize that ... a lot can happen in three years and a half.”

He also sought to respond to the controversy over two newly appointed ministers.

Macron suggested Education Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra should remain in office despite facing strong criticism from teachers’ unions. Oudéa-Castéra said last week she preferred to send her children to a private Catholic school in Paris.

“The minister made ill-chosen public comments. She apologized and she was right to (apologize),” Macron said. “The minister will succeed in working with teachers.”

About Culture Minister Rachida Dati, who has been named in a 2021 corruption-related preliminary charges, Macron argued the justice system is independent and she has the right to the “presumption of innocence.”

Macron acknowledged only one “regret” in response to a question about his apparent siding with actor Gérard Depardieu, who is facing sexual misconduct allegations, in televised remarks last month.

“I haven’t said enough how important it is for women who are victims of abuse to speak out, and how crucial this fight is to me,” he said, while standing by his defense of the presumption of innocence of Depardieu.

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