April 12, 2018 / 12:57 PM / in 7 months

Defiant Macron to push through reforms despite strikes

BERD’HUIS, France (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron will stick to his plans for sweeping reforms despite strikes and street protests, he said on Thursday in his first TV interview in months, adding that he is not one to govern based on opinion polls.

French SNCF railway employees and CGT labour union representatives, Michael Albin and Najim Abdelkader look at a screen during a televison interview with French President Emmanuel Macron on French television TF1 channel, at the train station in Nice, France, April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Since his election last May, Macron’s popularity has declined because of significant changes to France’s labour rules and a series of other reforms, including to debt-laden rail operator SNCF, taxes and parliament.

“That some people are not happy doesn’t stop me,” Macron said in the interview with private network TF1, adding that he would keep up the pace of reforms to make root and branch changes to France and “prepare it for the next 50 years”.

“Public opinion is not an objective in itself, sorry to be so blunt,” he said.

The interview on a widely watched midday news programme and held in a school in a small village in Normandy appeared to be aimed at older, rural voters, many of whom have expressed anger at a tax increase that has hit pensions.

“I have asked the pensioners to make an effort ... and I tell them ‘thank you’,” Macron said, emphasising that the poorest pensioners were not affected by the tax increase.

Speaking in a brightly decorated elementary school with children’s drawings on the wall, Macron said he would carry out all the reforms, including to state-run SNCF, “until the end” and despite facing months of debilitating strikes.

He said the French state would gradually assume part of SNCF’s 46 billion euro ($56.6 billion) debt, but only as reforms are implemented and the operator becomes more profitable.

Asked what he thought of the “president of the rich” tag he has been labelled with by opponents on the left, the 40-year-old former investment banker and economy minister pointed to decisions he had taken, including reducing a housing tax.

“I am the president of all the French people. The rich don’t need a president, they’re doing quite well by themselves,” he said.

Macron, who has largely kept the media at arm’s length since, is giving a series of interviews as he approaches the first anniversary of his election to office next month.

On Sunday he will be interviewed by two journalists known for their combative style, with the discussion to be broadcast by three media outlets.

($1 = 0.8128 euros)

Additional reporting by Michel Rose; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Luke Baker and David Goodman

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