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29th Feb 2024

Sarkozy in historic address to French parliament

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will on Monday (22 June) make a historic speech before a joint session of the French parliament gathered at the Palace of Versailles to lay out his domestic and international reform agenda.

It will be the first time a French president addresses the parliament in more than 100 years after constitutional reform passed last summer by a thin majority made the move possible.

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  • Mr Sarkozy will speak before the parliament gathered in Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles (Photo: Etienne Cazin)

Little to no details have been leaked about what the content of Mr Sarkozy's speech will be, but he is to touch upon European and international as well as domestic issues.

He is expected to present his vision of the European Union and of the reforms it needs in the aftermath of the European elections earlier this month, which saw a record-low turnout across Europe.

On Friday, the French president called for a "strong and ambitious" first EU president, provided that the bloc's Lisbon Treaty enters into force, and said the EU institutions, notably the European Commission, should be made stronger.

Concerning domestic issues, Mr Sarkozy is expected to speak about the financial crisis and its impact, the employment of older people, the reform of the local authorities and the possibility of having a law that regulates wearing a burqa.

The French president is also to announce a government reshuffle on Tuesday or Wednesday, according to French media reports.

His address, which comes almost half-way through his mandate – Mr Sarkozy was elected in May 2007 – is being compared by the media to the US president's state of the union address to Congress. It is the president's way to "leave his mark in the institutions' history in a very solemn way," comments daily Le Figaro.

The move is seen as "a good thing" by 56 percent of the French, according to a poll in Sunday's Journal du Dimanche.

But the opposition has criticised "a denial of democracy" and a "presidentialisation" of the regime.

"Besides a monarchical symbolism [which is] totally inappropriate for the gathering of the Republic's Assemblies, the cost of a Congress held in the palace of the Sun King (the palace of Versailles was Louis XIV's chateau) is estimated between €500,000 and €1 million," socialist MP Andre Vallini was quoted as saying by Le Figaro.

After an internal debate, the Socialists eventually decided to go to the so-called Congress – the National Assembly and the Senate gathered for a joint session – and to listen to the president, but will not participate in the debate that will follow Mr Sarkozy's speech.

The Greens and the Communists have refused to go at all.

Presidents have been banned from setting foot in the French parliament for more than a century in order to guarantee the institution's full independence from the executive.

The last president to speak before the French parliament was Charles-Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, during France's second republic in 1848.

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