Centrist French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron started revealing his campaign program at last Friday, saying he wants to slash 60 billion euros in spending but invest 50 billion euros in re-training and other stimulus programs.
Countering those who say his popularity is based on image alone, Macron insisted Friday on BFM television that "if I were a bubble, I would have exploded already."
With less than two months before the first round of France's election, polls suggest Macron is a leading contender but even many of his supporters remain uncertain of their choice.
The 39-year-old independent, who has never held elected office, pledged to tackle political corruption and ban lawmakers from hiring family members — a dig in part at rival conservative Francois Fillon, facing allegations of fake parliamentary jobs for his wife and two of his children. Fillon denies wrongdoing.
In an interview published Friday in Les Echos business daily, Macron promised 60 billion euros in spending cuts over five years, notably in state health care and unemployment benefits. He would also make 50 billion euros in public investments, for example in retraining the jobless and in cleaner energy.
He's quoted as saying he would stick to France's deficit target of 2.9 percent this year, and reduce taxes by 10 billion euros. A firm opponent of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen's bid to leave the European Union, Macron argued for a joint European budget and more ambitious cooperation across the euro currency union.
With chronic unemployment a major campaign issue, Macron wants to make it easier to change jobs — but said his presidency could involve as many as 120,000 government job cuts. That's less than the 500,000 promised by conservative Fillon, but still a big number for a candidate who came from a left-wing background.
Macron distanced himself from Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon, who promises a universal income for all citizens. "Unlike Benoit Hamon, I don't accept defeat on the jobs front," Macron told Les Echos.
Macron argues that the left-right spectrum no longer applies to today's world amid mounting nationalism. Critics question whether Macron could effectively govern without a party behind him.
He also reiterated that French colonialism was a crime against humanity but apologized to families of French soldiers who fought in Algeria's independence war, Algerians who fought with the French military and others deeply offended by the comments.