PARIS, April 25 (Reuters) - The following are key quotes from a rare press conference by French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, responding to months of “yellow vest” protests with new measures.
ON MACRON’S GOVERNMENT REFORMS
“I asked myself: Should we stop everything that was done over the past two years? Did we take a wrong turn? I believe quite the opposite.”
“We live in a country where disagreements are expressed vehemently. I’m fully convinced it was right not to give in over these first two years on the issues that are still at the heart of our project for this country.”
ON THE “YELLOW VESTS”
“I recognize and I respect the ‘yellow vests’ who came out onto the streets at the beginning of this crisis, and those who sympathised with them. But I will not give in to those who want to destroy institutions, who want the worst and who want to riot.”
ON FRANCE’S TOWN HALL DEBATES AFTER THE PROTESTS
“We are above all children of the Enlightenment. And it is from these debates, these deliberations, this capacity to contradict one another ... that good solutions can emerge for the country.”
ON SCHOOLS AND HOSPITALS
“We must maintain public service (in the countryside)... guarantee the access for all to health services and guarantee that no school or hospital will be closed without the mayor’s approval.”
ON REFORMING FRANCE’S CIVIL SERVICE AND ELITE SCHOOLS
“I want to reform our senior public service. This is not a meritocratic system any more... We don’t need job-for-life protection.”
Macron also confirmed he would scrap France’s Ecole Nationale d’Administration, a postgraduate school that was founded in 1945 by Charles de Gaulle to train a postwar administrative elite drawn from across all social classes.
“To carry this reform we need to put an end to the ENA... It’s not at all about stigmatizing the ENA, I went to this school, I owe it a lot.”
ON SCRAPPING FRANCE’S WEALTH TAX
Macron ruled out re-introducing the wealth tax - known in France as the ‘ISF’ - that his government replaced by a tax on lucrative property deals and real estate assets.
“Since it’s a pragmatic reform, it will be re-evaluated in 2020. If it’s not efficient, we’ll amend it.”
ON TAX CUTS
Macron said he wanted to “significantly” reduce income tax to alleviate the burden on the middle classes.
“Workers who pay income tax have widely contributed in past decades. So I’ll be simple, I don’t want tax increases. I want cuts for those who work by significantly reducing the income tax.”
Macron outlined some of the ways the tax cuts would be financed:
“I’ve asked the government to implement this tax reduction by closing some corporate tax loopholes, making people work more and cutting public spending.”
ON WORKING MORE AND RETIREMENT
“We have to work more, I’ve said it. France works a lot less than its neighbours. We have to have a real debate about this.”
Macron said he did not wish to push back the legal retirement age beyond the current threshold of 62.
But he also outlined the need for measures that would require French citizens to contribute for a longer period to the pension system before retiring.
ON FRANCE’S 2022 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Asked whether he would stand as a candidate in France’s next presidential election, Macron said:
“I don’t care about the next election. What I really want is for this mandate to be a success. And I take full responsibility for having to probably take other decisions that will be unpopular.”
Macron called for better control of borders at the national and European level. He said changes should be brought to the Schengen Area, even if it led to a reduction of its scope or to fewer member states.
“To be open, you need limits; to welcome someone, you need a house, so you need borders.”
ON “POLITICAL ISLAM”
Macron said he would be “uncompromising” in his approach to what he defined as a “political Islam” within France that sought to break with the rest of the country.
“Nowadays when we talk about secularism, ... we’re talking about the clannishness that has crept into some neighbourhoods in our republic...we’re talking about the people who, in the name of religion, are pursuing a political project that wants to secede from our republic.”
Macron said he would push to more strictly control the overseas financing for some organisations. (Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain, Leigh Thomas, Sarah White, Michel Rose, Marine Pennetier and Jean-Baptiste Vey)
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