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.
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.
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