By Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron will address a parliamentary session for both houses next Monday, a rare event which opponents said signaled his intent to concentrate power in the presidency.
Such a joint session of parliament is known as a Congress and takes place at Versailles, the sumptuous palace of France’s former monarchy built outside Paris by Louis XIV – the ‘Sun King’ – to symbolize absolute power.
Macron’s aides say he wants to set the tone and the direction of his five-year mandate in a ceremony that befits the office of the president.
His rivals said the 39-year-old was “Americanising” the role of president.
“It is Emmanuel Macron’s role to explain the world we live in, what the nation’s challenges are at the onset of the 21st century, and how our institutions work,” a source close to Macron said.
Former conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy addressed a Congress at the 17th-century palace in 2009, at the height of the global financial and banking crisis. Sarkozy’s successor, Francois Hollande, did the same in November 2015 after militant Islamists attacked Paris, declaring France “is at war”.
Macron has said he wants to embody a “Jupiterian” vision of the presidency – whereby the president, very much like the Roman god of gods, speaks rarely except to issue orders. He has strived to be seen as above daily politics, leaving the running of parliament to his prime minister.
Nonetheless, his opponents seized upon the timing of his speech, which will take place a day before Prime Minister Edouard Philippe addresses lawmakers.
“It’s a demonstration of his monarchical presidency” lawmaker Alexis Corbiere of the hard-left France Unbowed party told BFM TV. “It’s a form of Americanization of French politics.”
Conservative lawmaker Eric Ciotti told reporters in the corridors of parliament that Philippe was “just a voiceless puppet”.
Macron has sought to change the public image of the presidency, including through his relationship with the media.
Hollande strived to be seen as “Mr Normal”, holding regular press conferences and talking frequently off-the-record with journalists.
Macron has sharply reduced his interactions with the media since his election, wanting to restore old-fashioned grandeur to the role, his aides say.
In a break with tradition, Macron’s entourage said it was unlikely that the 39-year old would answer journalists’ questions during the annual Bastille Day celebrations, which U.S. President Donald Trump will attend.
(Additionl reporting by Marine Pennetier and Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Richard Lough)