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ANALYSIS Macron reigns supreme - until reform fight starts By Pol O Gradaigh, dpa

Europe
19.06.2017
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
With emphatic presidential and parliamentary victories under his belt, Emmanuel Macron now holds all the cards in France‘s political institutions. Does that mean that he can easily push through his promised labour reforms? The country will soon find out.

Paris (dpa) - Sunday‘s presidential election saw France‘s recently elected president, Emmanuel Macron, seal his control over the country‘s political scene.

The master of the Elysee Palace now also has a comfortable majority in the National Assembly.

His year-old centrist party, La Republique en Marche (The Republic on the Move, LREM) made a resounding success of its electoral debut.

Along with Macron‘s allies in the centrist Democratic Movement, it holds 350 of the assembly‘s 577 seats.

Once again, the 39-year-old former economy minister and one-time investment banker has confounded expectations.

During the presidential campaign, Macron‘s conservative rival Francois Fillon depicted himself as the only candidate who could hope to combine the presidency with a governing majority.

Macron‘s "marchers," many of them electoral novices, were thought unlikely to gain control of the assembly.

Now the question is if anything the opposite: will the president face any opposition at all?

It‘s all the more salient as Macron gears up for his first big policy initiative.

As he pledged during his campaign, he intends to revise France‘s notoriously comprehensive labour laws, making them more flexible.

Among the mooted measures are a cap on the damages that can be awarded for wrongful dismissal and allowing a number of issues concerning working conditions to be agreed at company level instead of sector-wide.

Macron‘s backers as well as business groups argue that such moves will allow businesses more flexibility and give them more confidence to hire staff.

The unions, as well as the left-wing and the far-right National Front, see a threat of a race to the bottom in working conditions.

But the influence they will have is limited given that "there is no parliamentary opposition," according to Ulrike Guerot, professor of European policy and the study of democracy at Donau University in Austria.

The second-biggest group in parliament, the centre-right Les Republicains, "will not oppose liberalizing reforms," Guerot argues, saying that "they would have gone much further themselves if Fillon had been elected."

And the left as a whole has only 72 seats, split between three parties that have poor relations with each other: the Socialist Party of Macron‘s predecessor Francois Hollande, La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) of radical leftist former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon, and the Communist Party.

Political scientist Thomas Guenole thinks there will be an opposition in parliament, especially based around Melenchon.

The newly-elected deputy for Marseille, in his victory speech on Sunday night, vowed to "call, when the time comes, for social resistance."

He promised the government that "not one metre will be yielded to them without struggle" on the labour law reforms.

But the opposition in parliament has little influence, Guenole admits: "When the president has an overall majority in the National Assembly, there is no real counterbalancing power."

Does that mean that opposition to Macron will be played out on the streets, as happened when protests and strikes brought France to a standstill in 1995 and forced the then government to back down on planned pension changes?

"It depends on Macron‘s ability to negotiate reforms, probably tough ones, with the trade unions," Guerot says.

But she notes that Macron does not want to appear as a radical liberalizer: he wants "socially acceptable" reforms.

And the stakes are high, she argues: "France needs reforms."

If Macron can pull off his domestic reforms, she says, he can "say to Germany: ‘Now I‘ve done my homework and now you must help us‘," on reforms at the European level to strengthen the political and fiscal management of the euro zone.

Guenole warns against assuming that the main hardline trade union, the CGT, "has a million people at its disposal that it can call onto the streets."

"Actually what happens is that a heavily unionized vanguard launches the first move," he says. "If it snowballs, then the leadership might take the risk of attempting a general mobilization."

But it would indeed be a risk, he stresses: "Macron is determined to go all the way."

An all-out confrontation by the unions would be long and painful for their members: it could involve long periods of strikes without pay, and confrontations with police if they try to enforce blockades.

Macron has promised to push through his labour law reforms by decree in order to get them into effect within months, but his government has also promised that they will be fully negotiated.

Now that he holds all the political cards, the next few months may reveal the wider balance of power in French society as a whole.

 

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