Via - The Guardian
It was the most important TV appearance of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency: the 40-year-old former banker had to prove to an angry nation that he was not an arrogant “president of the rich” and that he understood ordinary French people’s struggle to make ends meet.
Yet Macron’s choice to deliver his prerecorded speech on social inequality from one of the most opulent and golden rooms in the luxurious, 365-room Élysée Palace was not lost on gilets jaunes protesters who have been occupying protest barricades on rural roundabouts.
Indeed, the Élysée Palace, the French presidential residence and workplace that is twice the size of the US White House and costs €104m a year to run, has been the object of fury during the protests. The demonstrations, which began as a citizens’ revolt against a proposed fuel tax on 17 November have quickly morphed into wider anti-government demonstrations against inequality.
On the barricades, many have been critical of the Macrons for redecorating some rooms in the palace – including the main reception room where new carpets will cost €300,000 (£271,000).
Macron chose to announce his measures aimed at calming the gilets jaunes protests by speaking from the traditional presidential office known as the salon doré, with its gold decorations*.*
He sat behind the large antique desk that has been used by all presidents since Charles de Gaulle and is the most valuable piece of furniture in the gilded palace. At the edge of the frame was a golden cockerel, the symbol of France, between golden lamps, and three carefully placed antique books. Behind him, just to the right of a pair of ornate gold leaf doors, were the French and European flags.
The 13-minute address had to prove the pro-business Macron understood the “real world” of protesters. There had been outrage among gilets jaunes when an MP from Macron’s party, La République En Marche, was recently unable to state the minimum wage on TV or when a cabinet minister trying to show the gulf between the working poor and the political elite appeared to complain that Paris dinners cost “€200 without wine”.
Macron’s every twitch and movement was scrutinised by viewers. Some wondered if he had a rash on his neck, perhaps from stress. Others felt the way he sat with hands on the table looked a bit like a school teacher returning homework. But a record 23 million people tuned in – about the same number as for the French football team’s winning World Cup final.
Macron usually prefers to make TV addresses from his everyday office next door, which features vast works of modern art, including a copy of American street artist Shepard Fairey’s portrait of the Marianne symbol of the French republic. But Macron has said he likes to work in the golden presidential office when he has to focus on things that are more “complex” and require “time and order”. It is also where he meets global leaders such as Donald Trump.
“He doesn’t live in the real world” is a common refrain on the barricades, where Macron is likened to a monarch. It remains to be seen whether an appearance from a gilded room in an 18th-century palace will change people’s minds.