In a ceremonial address to parliament, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged on Monday that he would seek to implement “deep reform”, which would include reducing the number of lawmakers and ending the country’s state of emergency.
He said that a parliament with a lower number of MPs and with strengthened means, will be able to operate with greater ease.
He added that he would seek direct approval from voters in a referendum if parliament failed to sign off his intended institutional reforms quickly enough.
Elected only two months ago by a hefty majority, Macron told the lawmakers of both houses, summoned especially to the Palace of Versailles, that he wanted to cut the number of lawmakers by a third, curb the executive’s role in naming magistrates, and introduce a “dose” of proportional representation.
Macron’s upstart Republic on the Move (LREM) party has secured a comfortable majority in the National Assembly – but France’s youngest leader since Napoleon made clear his impatience to complete the reshaping of the political landscape that he has begun.
“The French people are not driven by patient curiosity, but by an uncompromising demand. It is a profound transformation that they expect,” Macron told the specially convened joint session of parliament.
“I want all these deep reforms that our institutions seriously need to be done within a year. These reforms will go to parliament but, if necessary, I will put them to voters in a referendum.”
Macron also pressed his case for reform of Europe.
An ardent advocate of deeper European Union integration who put reviving Europe’s Franco-German axis and treaty reform at the center of his presidential campaign, Macron said excessive bureaucracy had fueled euroskepticism among the public.
“The last 10 years have been cruel for Europe. We have managed crises but we have lost our way,” Macron said.
“I firmly believe in Europe, but I don’t find this skepticism unjustified.”
Macron, whose centrist platform has routed both the traditional rightist and leftist parties of government, is not the first French leader to convene a so-called Congress of both houses, though past presidents have tended to use it in times of crisis or for constitutional reforms.
He also vowed to lift a state of emergency that has been in place since 2015, but also to harden permanent security measures to fight extremism and other threats.
Macron said his government “will work to prevent any new attack, and we will work to fight (the assailants) without pity, without regrets, without weakness.”
At the same time, he insisted on the need to “guarantee full respect for individual liberties” amid concerns that new measures would allow police too many powers.
Macron vowed to maintain France’s military interventions against extremists abroad, especially in Africa’s Sahel region and in Iraq and Syria. He also insisted on the importance of maintaining “the path of negotiation, of dialogue” for long-term solutions.
Macron also announced Europe-wide public conferences later this year in an effort to reinvigorate the European Union after Britain’s vote to leave.
He said he understood why many Europeans see the EU as bureaucratic, distant and uncaring.
“I firmly believe in Europe, but I don’t find this skepticism unjustified,” he said.
He also said European countries should work more closely to help political refugees while fighting migrant-smuggling and strengthening borders against illegal migration.
Critics who fear Macron is trying to amass too much power organized protests over Monday’s event.
Lawmakers from the far-left party of Jean-Luc Melenchon and communists decided not to attend the speech in protest against what they call a “presidential monarchy”.
After his new centrist party dominated parliamentary elections and split the opposition, political rivals are comparing Macron to Napoleon, or the Roman king of the gods, Jupiter.
They are especially angry that he wants to strip worker protections through a decree-like procedure, allowing little parliamentary debate.
Macron also broke with tradition in convening the Versailles parliament session just one day before his prime minister is to face —and likely to win— his first confidence vote in parliament.