France's Macron aims to push economic and immigration reforms despite political challenges

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PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to make key economic, immigration and education reforms despite France's divisions and political challenges that have included months of protests against pension changes and recent rioting over a teen killed by police.

Macron said in a wide-ranging interview with Le Point magazine published Thursday that he will meet next week with the country’s “main political leaders” for talks about issues confronting France. The talks would be aimed at proposing new bills and possibly referendums, he said.

Macron last year lost his majority in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, forcing him to use political maneuvering to pass any new legislation. That was “no big deal,” he said in the interview, noting that his centrist government managed to pass some new laws since then with support from members of the center-left and the traditional right.

Macron wants to avoid a repetition of the major political crisis prompted by the parliamentary deadlock earlier this year over a reform to cut costs by raising the retirement age from 62 to 64. His government used a special constitutional power to force the legislation through without a vote at the National Assembly, infuriating opponents who staged a months-long firestorm of protest.

Macron promised to address the roots of several days of unrest around France sparked at the end of June by the police killing of a 17-year-old boy. He told Le Point that those who participated in the riots, including many aged under 18, acted out of a “will for revenge” against police and the state institutions.

“There was no political message, nor a social or religious message,” he said.

The 45-year-old president vowed to implement a major education reform that would including reducing students’ vacation days, and would allow students with learning difficulties to return to school sooner after holidays than others.

“There are too many vacations,” Macron said.

He also said that an immigration bill that has been postponed several times this year due to the lack of a parliamentary majority would be debated in the coming months. He said his government would hold talks with opposition parties to build a proposal.

“We must significantly reduce immigration, starting with illegal immigration,” he said. The external borders of the European Union must be better protected, he argued.

The comments come as a number of boats have capsized or otherwise been in distress in recent days off the North African coast and near Italian shores. Tens of thousands of migrants have tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea this year hoping to reach Europe.

Macron vowed to bring the unemployment rate down to 5%. France unemployment rate reached 7.2% this year, its lowest rate since 2008.

He said his policies since 2017 have boosted France's growth and improved its economic “attractiveness” to foreign. “We must do more to reduce unemployment by all means,” he said.