PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron announced tax cuts for middle-class workers and plans for a more representative parliament Thursday as part of a promised response to the weekly yellow vest protests that damaged his presidency.

In a nationally televised speech followed up by a news conference, the French leader also said France and Europe must do more to fight illegal migration.

Macron spoke to the nation from the presidential Elysée Palace after he convened nationwide meetings where communities could debate how to address economic concerns raised by the yellow vest movement, including high taxes, unemployment and stagnant wages.

He unveiled measures to boost pensions under $ 2,226 and said he would propose an overhaul of France’s retirement system during the summer. But he said the “best solution” for financial disparities is “to cut taxes for a maximum number of citizens and especially those who are working, especially the middle-class.”

The president also vowed to introduce “deep changes” to France’s system of democracy. One is easing the rules for organizing public referendums so people have another outlet for grievances besides the street protests that have convulsed the country for five months.

He pledged to reduce the number of lawmakers in parliament by about 30% and to change how seats are filled so the national legislature better reflects the diversity of France’s political parties. France’s parliamentary election system currently is designed to give the winning party a strong majority, putting smaller parties at a disadvantage.

But Macron warned that there comes a time for hard choices. He said he thinks illegal immigration is weighing on Europe. The European Union should be “strong” by both protecting its borders and taking in some asylum-seekers from countries where their lives are at risk.

“To be welcoming, you need to have a house. So we need borders, we need borders to be respected, we need rules,” he said.

In a move to counter the yellow vest movement’s portrayal of him as elitist, Macron said he decided to do away with France’s Ecole Nationale d’Administration, the influential college that trains top civil servants and politicians.

The centrist Macron, a former investment banker, is himself an ENA graduate.

Macron apologized for some comments that were perceived as arrogant, such as his telling an unemployed man he could find a job if he “crosses the street”. “I may have given the impression to give orders all the time and be tough. Which I regret,” he said.

At the same time, he said he would keep pushing pro-business policies opposed by labor unions and the yellow vest movement.

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