French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that he planned to make “difficult” decisions this summer and again refused to confirm if he would seek another five-year term in what is expected to be a hotly contested election next year.
“I can’t manage this summer taking it easy,” Macron told a group of pensioners in the southern French village of Martel as part of a nationwide tour.
“I’m going to have to make some choices… some of them difficult” but necessary so that the last year of his term is “useful,” he said.
Macron had already indicated in an interview in December that he might have to take “tough steps” that could render any re-election bid “impossible.”
“It’s too early to say,” he replied Thursday when asked if he would run, while insisting he was determined to “carry things out until the end”.
The 43-year-old centrist, whose 2017 victory upended France’s political establishment, has repeatedly held his cards close to his chest about the 2022 election, when he is again expected to face off against far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Right-wing heavyweight Xavier Bertrand has already declared his candidacy, and other right-wingers, including former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and perhaps Macron’s ex-premier Edouard Philippe, could yet enter the fray.
It would be a major sensation if Macron did not run and his popularity in polls — while not stellar — is respectable compared to those of his predecessors.
– Pension reform plan? –
Macron was on the second day of his latest tour to “take the pulse” of the country ahead of the vote, as well as regional elections later this month — in which his Republic on the Move party is widely expected to perform poorly.
The former investment banker swept to power with an upstart party and a pledge to enact vast reforms to unshackle the French economy and right its finances.
His ambitious plans, including tax cuts and pension overhauls, nonetheless generated fierce protests including the “yellow vests” revolt, which accused Macron of favouring the urban elite and wealthy at the expense of the rest of the population.
The Covid crisis has further stymied his reformist drive, in particular a highly symbolic overhaul of France’s debt-burdened pension system, which was suspended in March last year.
His own party is divided on whether to carry through with the reform in the coming months, or put off the potentially explosive issue until after next year’s vote.
“I don’t think the reform that was initially planned can be revived in its current state,” Macron told a group of journalists later Thursday, calling it “the mother of all reforms”.
Though he said it was “too soon” to announce his plan for getting the system on sound financial footing, he added that “nothing has been ruled out”.
– ‘Couldn’t care less’ –
Asked about France’s economic prospects, Macron defended his policies, as well has his decision not to raise taxes as debt mounts from efforts to curtail the pain of the Covid pandemic.
“You have to produce wealth to redistribute it, something we forget too often in our country,” he said. “We are the EU country that taxes the most.”
“Should we massively tax the rich, an idea we seem to love? We can, but the rich will just leave!” he said.
“They call me ‘president of the rich’ — I couldn’t care less.”