Emmanuel Macron has said France will invest €100bn in a major economic recovery plan aimed at “building a different country”, as the nation honored its health workers in a somber, pared-back Bastille Day ceremony.
With signs that the virus “is returning somewhat” and the reproduction or R-rate above one in some parts of the country, the French president said masks, already obligatory on public transport and recommended in shops, would become mandatory in all enclosed public space in France by 1 August.
The “massive” recovery plan will come on top of the €460bn France has already spent supporting its economy since the start of the crisis, Macron said, and would help fund “a recovery that is industrial, ecological, local, cultural and educational. I am convinced that within the next 10 years we can build a different country.”
Earlier, the president looked on as doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers joined soldiers in a scaled-down Bastille Day parade that focused on France struggle against the virus, where it has claimed more than 30,000 lives.
For the first time in decades there was no grand military march along the Champs Élysées, with just 2,000 soldiers – half the usual number – gathering at the Place de la Concorde for the parade, held every year to mark the storming of the Bastille fortress and prison on 14 July 1789 that launched the French Revolution.
Macron said his short-term objective was to avoid as many mass redundancies as possible, partly by prolonging a partial unemployment scheme that since March has paid 8.6 million employees 84% of their salary. Economists have predicted between 800,000 and 1 million new jobseekers because of the crisis.Advertisement
Longer term, over the next 18 to 24 months, he said in a 90-minute TV interview to mark France’s national day that “this crisis, at bottom, allows us to create a stronger France – by responding to the problems we were not able to address in calmer times”.
The environment was central, he said, with priority on investments to fight climate change such as increasing freight transport by rail instead of road and subsidies for improving energy efficiency. A referendum on writing the fight against global heating into the country’s constitution would be organised “as soon as possible”.
Macron halted the ritual of the 14 July presidential interview when he took office in 2017, saying he wanted to end “politics as usual”, but both he and his new government, headed by a hands-on technocrat, Jean Castex, are under pressure to show how they intend to pull the country out of the looming economic crisis triggered by the pandemic.
Among a string of other measures, Macron – who acknowledged mistakes in managing the pandemic and in the first three years of his presidency – announced 300,000 special contracts for school-leavers and a rebuilding programme for schools and other public buildings.
The president also defended his appointment of Gérald Darmanin, the new interior minister, earlier this month, saying nobody should be judged “by the street” or through social media and the presumption of innocence must apply. Darmanin, 37, is under investigation over a rape claim and his promotion has outraged feminists and sparked street protests.
Only 2,500 physically distanced Bastille Day guests took their place on viewing stands to see a handful of tanks and other military vehicles on display, hear a military choir sing the Marseillaise and applaud several dozen doctors, nurses and care workers – some in tears – chosen to represent their professions.
The audience also included not just dignitaries but healthcare professionals, ambulance drivers, supermarket and care home workers, mask-makers and lab technicians who kept France going during its strict nationwide lockdown, along with families of medical workers who died from Covid-19.
Representatives of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Luxembourg were invited to thank their countries for taking in 161 French patients in a critical condition.Advertisement
Critics have accused the government of initially underestimating the scale of the crisis and some health workers say it has not done enough to support the care system. Protesters launched balloons near the Place de la Concorde bearing a banner reading: “Behind the tributes, Macron is suffocating hospitals.”
The occasion also honoured Charles de Gaulle 50 years after the general’s death and on the 80th anniversary of his celebrated call, broadcast from London by the BBC on 18 June 1940, to resist the Nazi occupation.
The annual evening fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower will this year also largely be destined for TV viewers as Paris authorities have closed off large parts of the city to crowds, including the area around the tower, the banks of the Seine and other areas where people generally gather to celebrate Bastille Day.