On Bastille Day, Macron warns France on gas supply, pledges pension progress

French President Emmanuel Macron promised Thursday to push ahead with reforms during his second term, despite a humiliating setback in last month’s parliamentary elections. But he used his annual Bastille Day television interview to warn of difficult times ahead due to the war in Ukraine.

“We have to prepare ourselves for a scenario where Russia cuts off all gas,” Macron told broadcasters TF1 and France 2 on France’s national holiday. “It is likely.”

Macron said he would soon submit a detailed plan to cut back on energy consumption in France. He called on businesses and consumers to scale back on energy use, as European leaders fret about the prospect of more cuts in Russian gas supplies

Speaking in the gardens of the Elysée Palace, Macron said France is aiming to manage without Russian gas as soon as possible. He accused Russia of using energy deliveries to the West as “a weapon of war” and warned that the war in Ukraine has no end in sight.

Macron also zeroed in on benefit and pension reforms that have generated widespread opposition, including mass protests from the left and unions.

He confirmed the timeline of the pension reforms package – which could include raising the retirement age – saying it will be in place by summer 2023. That could be a risky bet for the president given his lost parliamentary majority and falling public support.

Barely three months after winning re-election, Marcon has sunk to his lowest level of popularity since March 2020. His La République en Marche party came first in June’s parliamentary election, but saw its majority in the National Assembly wiped out amid big gains for radical parties on the right and left.

In a sign of his parliamentary weakness, lawmakers on Tuesday rejected a proposal to give the government powers to demand travelers show COVID-19 immunity passes.

Macron defended his program during the hour-long interview. He promised to speed up labor reforms affecting benefits and compensation rules for the unemployed — another highly sensitive political issue.

“I want, from this summer, that we can accelerate on the reform of labor,” Macron said, with progress expected in September. “Full employment” is a priority, he insisted.

Journalists pressed the president about the so-called Uber Files affair, where leaked internal documents from the ride-hailing company appeared to reveal privileged exchanges between Macron and senior Uber figures while he was economy minister from 2014-2016.

Macron stood by his dealings with the company, insisting he had no regrets about a reform of the cab market at that time and saying the government’s action had “opened the market in a balanced way.”

Pauline de Saint Remy contributed reporting.