Emmanuel Macron is to close France's elite ENA school for future leaders, raise small pensions, cut taxes and push the French to “work more”, under radical plans leaked to the media.
Mr Macron, the French president, was due to announce the measures in a hotly anticipated televised address on Monday in response to a two-month “great national debate” in the wake of the nationwide “yellow vest” revolt. He had even recorded the speech.
But minutes after it was in the can, Notre-Dame Cathedral went up in flames, prompting the 41-year old centrist to cancel the broadcast and rush to the site of France’s beloved 850-year old monument.
The text of the speech has already been leaked widely to French media. In one of the most eye-catching proposals, the president proposes scrapping the elite ENA college in Paris for senior public servants of which he, along with many of France’s former presidents, is a graduate.
The school is supposed to be a meritocratic hothouse, but critics say it fails to attract a social mix and creates a culture of cronyism among France’s elite.
David Guilbaud, a graduate and author of The Meritocratic Illusion, called the proposal “a very good PR stunt but which in no way solves the problem of training top civil servants nor that of social inequalities in entering the senior civil service".
Among the most explosive ideas is to ask the French to “work more” by reducing the number of national holidays, doing away with the 35-hour week or increasing the legal retirement age.
Philippe Martinez, head of the hardline leftist CGT union slammed the idea as "absurd".
"The future is working less. If we want everyone to work, people need to work less," he claimed.
Mr Macron also pledges to lower taxes on the middle classes - a measure he says he will pay for by cracking down on tax evasion.
He promises a review in 2020 of his deeply unpopular decision to cut a wealth tax - a move that saw critics dub him “president of the rich”. Its reinstatement is a key yellow vest demand.
Mr Macron tells the French he will “make all the modifications and corrections necessary” if its removal fails to boost investment and jobs.
Another key top yellow vest demand has been the creation of citizen-sponsored “popular initiative referendums”.
In a concession, Mr Macron says such referendums could be considered but only for local issues. The opposition predictably panned the measures as “band-aid” while Greens said they failed to include a single measure for the environment.