Six post-summer holiday headaches for Macron

French President Emmanuel Macron returns from his summer break to an overflowing in-tray as he pushes on with wide-ranging reforms.

Here are six of the trickiest challenges awaiting him:

Public sector shake-up

Macron’s pledge to slash 120 000 jobs out of 5.4 million jobs in France’s heavily unionised public sector has already brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets.

The business-friendly former investment banker wants to make more use of private contractors and has raised the prospect of voluntary redundancies.

But unions say his plans are an attack on traditionally strong job security in the public sector, which represents some 21% of employment — among the highest rates in Europe.


Consultations on the highly sensitive reforms are due to restart in September with the government hoping to draft legislation in early 2019.

Tough negotiations with unions and employers are also looming on changes to France’s complex unemployment insurance system.

The government wants to set up a system which would deter companies from putting workers on endless short-term contracts which leave young people in particular with little job security.

The pensions taboo

Macron is daring to tread where many leaders have struggled by confronting one of the most explosive issues in French politics: pensions.

France has an unwieldy 42 pension schemes, each with different rights attached.

Macron wants a universal scheme under which every worker gets the same amount for each euro paid in — a system he says would be fairer as well as simpler.

Previous reform attempts have repeatedly prompted an uproar, including in 1995 under president Jacques Chirac, who eventually abandoned his plans under pressure from huge street protests.

The government, which will resume consultations with unions and employers in September, has already ruled out raising the minimum retirement age, fixed at 62 for most workers.

Tackling poverty

Macron is at pains to challenge critics who have branded him a “president of the rich”, charging that his liberalising economic policies — including tax cuts for the wealthiest — have left the poor behind.

Some 14% of France’s population, including a fifth of children, live below the poverty line, scraping by on less than €1 008 ($1 152) a month.

Macron was due to unveil his anti-poverty plan in July but delayed it — apparently due to scheduling conflicts with the football World Cup — prompting critics to question his priorities.

Set to include free breakfasts at school for poor pupils and extra cash for creches that take the poorest babies, it is now set to be unveiled mid-September and put into action next year.

Macron says the plan will be based on guiding people towards work, health, decent housing and education rather than “classic redistribution”.

Tightening budget

A day after returning to Paris from the sun-soaked south, Macron is due to meet Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Wednesday to thrash out tricky changes to the budget.

He has already been trying to balance delicate priorities of major tax cuts combined with keeping the budget deficit under the European Union’s 3.0% limit to placate EU partners.

But less cash is coming into state coffers than anticipated, complicating things further.

Having promised his tax cuts and labour law changes would kickstart the economy, Macron’s government has had to revise down its growth forecasts to 1.8% this year, in part due to global trade woes.

Macron may now face a tough choice between more borrowing or deeper cuts to public spending.

Europe

Macron came to power last year vowing deep reforms to the EU but has so far found only tepid support for ambitious plans including a eurozone budget.

Challenges such as Brexit and an ongoing influx of migrants have jostled for attention, while unpredictable European parliament elections next year could throw another spanner in the works.

The French president will head to Denmark and Finland from August 28 to 30, hoping to re-energise support for his reforms.

Image problems

A scandal over Macron’s former bodyguard, filmed roughing up protesters while wearing a police helmet, created ample fodder for opponents just before the holidays.

Critics said Macron’s handling of the “Benalla affair” reinforced his image as an aloof leader with monarchical leanings who was dismissive of democratic checks and balances.

The scandal has done little to help his feeble approval ratings.

In an Elabe poll this month, 60% said they did not trust the president, while YouGov gave him an approval rating of just 27%.

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Related stories

Covid-19 vaccines offer hope as world leaders plan for future

Hopes over Covid-19 vaccines have given a boost to virus-weary citizens across the globe, but the disease remains rampant and world leaders are urging people to be patient

$500m for Covid test, treat, vaccine

France, Spain, the European Commission and Britain as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged money for equity in the treatment of Covid-19

Tax the super rich and raise inflation to cut state debt, inequality and poverty

The richest 10% of South Africans own over 85% of all private wealth and a once-off 25% tax would reduce government debt by more than half. Imagine what a five-year wealth tax could do

The European companies that armed the Ivorian civil war

AN OCCRP investigation reveals that Gunvor and Semlex brokered weapons-for-oil deals in early 2011 when Côte d’Ivoire was in crisis, despite a UN arms embargo

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza: Liberating Africa from land of liberté

The cultural and political activist is on a quest to bring looted treasures back home

France will test flying taxis from next year, say operators

A drone-like, fully-electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (VTOL) dubbed VoloCity, produced by German company Volocopter, was chosen for the innovative trial with flying taxis in a peri-urban area
Advertising

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…