Macron vows 'French renaissance' in 2018

President Emmanuel Macron vowed to pursue his reform agenda with the "same intensity" in 2018 and kickstart a "French renaissance" in his first New Year's address as leader, which comes as the economy picks up.
Despite winning May's presidential election on a promise to ditch politics as usual Macron stuck with tradition in Sunday's televised address from the Elysee Palace, which began and ended with the national anthem.
Seated at his desk, wearing a dark suit and tie, Macron cited some of his achievements in his first seven months in his office, including his overhaul of the labour code.
"These profound transformations... will continue with the same strength, the same rhythm and the same intensity in 2018," the 40-year-old centrist said, promising to "continue to do that for which you elected me."
But the former investment banker, who has been labelled the "president of the rich" by the leftist opposition, also attempted to reach out to those who feel left behind by his pro-business policies.
Sitting in front of a wall-hanging marked "fraternity" Macron said: "I believe in success but what good is success if only a few succeed, feeding into selfishness and cynicism?"
Announcing a "grand social project" in 2018 that would cover the health sector and housing for the homeless among other areas, he also extolled the virtues of work as a way of "helping everyone find their place" in society.
Lamenting the "irreconcilable divisions that are corroding our country," he appealed to the French to not reason solely in terms of what the traditionally protectionist French state could do for them.
"Ask yourselves every morning what you can do for the country," he urged, echoing former US president John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech in 1961, in which he told Americans: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
That "conquering French spirit" would help breathe life into a "French renaissance," he said.
He also pledged to continue to work with Germany to reform the European Union, insisting "Europe is good for France."
- Poll surge -
France's youngest-ever president enters 2018 on a high note, with polls showing voters warming to him again after having soured on him in his first months in office.
A Harris Interactive poll published Friday gave him a 52 percent approval rating, up seven points.
The turnaround has been attributed both to the weakness of the opposition, to his record in implementing his campaign pledges and his leadership on the international stage.
In his first months in he office he pushed through labour and tax reforms with only mild resistance, played good cop and bad cop with US President Donald Trump and Russia's Vladimir Putin, acted as mediator in Lebanon's political crisis as well as hosting a global climate summit.
He has also benefitted from an upswing on the economic front.
Europe's second-biggest economy is projected to grow by 1.9 percent in 2017 -- up from a previous estimate of 1.6 percent -- and unemployment is at its lowest level in three years, albeit still at relatively high 9.4 percent.
by Clare BYRNE
© 2017 AFP