France’s Macron launches second round of reforms
FRENCH President Emmanuel Macron launched round two of his ambitious domestic reform programme on Wednesday, welcoming business leaders and trade unionists for talks about a highly sensitive overhaul of unemployment benefits.
Fresh from pushing through major changes to French labour law, the 39-year-old centrist has now turned to the next stage of the “transformation” of the French social model which he has promised.
This includes major changes to France’s generous unemployment benefits system, as well as large increases in statefunded training aimed at helping the unemployed back into the workplace.
Any change to social security is controversial in France and Macron is hop- ing to avoid an escalation in street protests against him which began in early September at the call of trade unions.
“It was polite but firm,” the head of the Communist-backed CGT trade union, Philippe Martinez, told reporters after talks with Macron at the presidential palace yesterday.
Martinez has been one of the most vocal critics of Macron since his election in May and the CGT has spearheaded what has so far been a mostly ineffective round of strikes and demonstrations to demand the government change tack.
Macron intends to deploy the same playbook used to push through the labour law reform: negotiations over the next few months culminating in a set of government’s proposals.
“Objective: to invent new protections,” Macron tweeted.
But whereas his opponents were pre- viously divided – with the more moderate CFDT and FO unions backing talks, not protests – there are growing signs that the labour movement is preparing to push back together.
Macron vowed during campaigning to overhaul the unemployment benefits system to extend it to self-employed people and farmers who are currently not covered, as well as opening it up – under certain conditions – to people who quit their jobs.
But controversially he also proposed that benefits claimants could only refuse one job locally for which they were qualified. If they refused twice, they would lose their payouts or have to accept a government-approved retraining programme.
Funds set aside by the government for training are set to total € 15 billion ($18 billion) over the next five years for adult education aimed at helping increase the skills of the jobless.
Macron’s popularity ratings have fallen sharply since his election in May, with only 40 percent of respondents in a recent survey saying they had a favourable view of the former investment banker.
French President Emmanuel Macron (left) meets with the head of the employers federation MEDEF, Pierre Gattaz, in Paris yesterday.