Macron to make US-style State of the Union address

Story highlights

  • Macron to make Versailles speech Monday
  • French President to address both houses of parliament

Paris (CNN)Emmanuel Macron will return to the birthplace of French democracy Monday in his latest attempt to reshape the nature of the French presidency.

Amid the spectacular beauty and opulence of the Palace of Versailles, the French president will address leaders of both houses of parliament in a US-style State of the Union address.
    The palace has already played host to Macron's chastising of Russia's President Putin, but now it appears set to welcome yet another episode in the new president's charm offensive.

    Choreographed appearances

    But it is not just the majestic setting of the palace that makes Macron's decision to speak at Versailles so intriguing, but the symbolism too.
    It was there in 1789, in the Real Tennis Room built by Louis XIV, that French revolutionaries gathered to form the first national assembly, vowing to stick together until a constitution was granted.
    On Monday, France's newly elected national assembly members and its senators will be meeting in the Palace of Versailles itself to hear Macron, deliver something new to French democracy: its first US-style State of the Union address.
    It won't be the first time the joint houses of parliament have gathered in Versailles in recent times. Nicolas Sarkozy gathered them there in 2009 to consider constitutional changes and Francois Hollande did the same immediately after the terror attacks of November 2015 to announce a state of emergency.
    But such events are rare and driven by particular circumstances. Macron has decided to make what was the exception in French politics, one of its new rules.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin looks around as he walks alongside Macron in the Galerie des Batailles.
    It will be good to hear from him. The French have not heard much from him since his election on May 7. Apart from one interview given to several European newspapers on the question of Europe, the new French president has been remarkably silent and intentionally so.
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    His appearances have been infrequent, carefully choreographed, and his contacts with journalists limited and so tightly controlled that the Élysée has handpicked the journalists allowed on foreign presidential trips.
    And last week the Élysée went even further, announcing that Macron would break with tradition on Bastille Day this year by not giving the traditional televised interview.
    The reason given by the Élysée to the French media? That the president's thought process is simply too "complex" to lend itself to the "game" of questions and answers with journalists. Besides, say those around him, he will have made clear his plans for the country in Monday's address.

    Strategy designed to avoid mistakes

    It is typical of Macron's communications strategy so far. A strategy dictated by the desire to avoid the mistakes made by the overly talkative Hollande whose openness with journalists so spectacularly backfired.
    It led to an image problem that made him the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic. The French public never forgave him for not being "un homme d'etat," a man who could be the embodiment of all the power that is invested in the French presidency.
    The role was reinvented at the founding of the Fifth Republic to fix the instabilities caused by an overly powerful parliament in the Third and Fourth Republic.
    French deputies and senators attend a special congress of both houses of Parliament at the Versailles Palace.
    It is considered the most powerful position in the Western world. A position created by Charles de Gaulle for Charles de Gaulle and until now, one that has often represented a struggle for the successors who have sought to live up to its potential.
    But Macron has taken it one step further. His improbable presidential campaign all but eliminated the mainstream political parties and therefore any hope of a credible opposition for the foreseeable future.

    Historic majority

    June's parliamentary elections handed him an absolute and historic parliamentary majority. With both the executive and legislature in his hands, Macron is an incredibly powerful man. The danger now is that he becomes unaccountable.
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    Already there has been much grumbling within the French press about the president's lack of openness and proximity.
    On Monday, he will be speaking to the French public not through journalists but addressing parliamentarians -- most of them his own.
    He will be doing so not from the Élysée but from Versailles, which may be the birthplace of French democracy, but is a far more powerful symbol of what democracy replaced.
    Its scale, its carefully manicured gardens, its gilt corridors and mirrored banquet rooms are all reminders of what unchecked power can bring.
    Macron has the right to speak there and the power to make his speech an annual event. The danger is that by choosing as a backdrop the ultimate symbol of absolute power, he will be drawing attention to the very thing that many in France feel he may have too much of.