Macron humbled by his mistakes as he readies re-election bid

French President Emmanuel Macron gestures during joint statements with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Slovakia's Prime Minister Eduard Heger and Czech Republic's Prime Minister Andrej Babis after a meeting of central Europe's informal body of cooperation called the Visegrad Group or V4, in Budapest, Hungary, Dec 13, 2021. (LASZLO BALOGH / AP)

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron, whose hopes of winning a second term face a growing challenge from the opposition, said he has been humbled by the pandemic and his mistakes — and learned a lot from both.

While French President Emmanuel Macron has not yet officially said he will run for a second term in April, and he again dodged the question, he has de facto started campaigning 

His sharp tongue, combined with a very top-down approach to power, have upset many voters and cost Macron popularity. This could be a key obstacle to his re-election.

"I have learned (from the pandemic), and I am more sensitive to some things than I was before," Macron said in an interview broadcast on Wednesday by TF1 and LCI TV channels, adding that it was clear French hospitals, for instance, needed help.

While opinion polls had long shown Macron easily winning a second mandate, that now seems less clear. He went out of his way on Wednesday to say he had learned from his errors, for instance when he abruptly told a young unemployed man he would find a job if he just crossed the street and asked.

"I have sometimes been very harsh," Macron said. "I have realized that we can't change things without an infinite respect for each and every one."

He added: "Have I made mistakes? Yes, a lot."

While he has not yet officially said he will run for a second term in April, and he again dodged the question, Macron has de facto started campaigning. He said in the interview he was as determined as ever to continue reforming France.

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Macron, who had been a minister under Socialist President Francois Holland, ran in the last election as a political outsider who was neither of the left nor the right.

But during a presidency hit by social unrest over his pro-business economic reform, his policymaking has drifted to the right, alienating some center-left supporters.

To gain re-election, he needs to win some of them back but also fend off a challenge from conservative rival Valerie Pecresse, who recent polls show has a shot at reaching the second round and beating Macron.

To convince the center-right or conservative voters, he insisted he will continue with reforms – even if, he said, his pension reform may not be as drastic as initially planned.

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But to reassure those more left of center, he rejected the "president of the rich" label some gave him when he cut a wealth tax at the start of his term.

"Why were we able to protect (the vulnerable) during this (COVID-19) crisis? Because we had done the job, because we had a credibility, a solidity, linked to the reforms of the labor market," he said, referring to one of his most unpopular initiatives.