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POLITICS

Macron looks to have won his battle with ‘the street’ as protests lose steam

With France's main politics parties on the left and right hit by disarray and division the chief opposition to Emmanuel Macron was supposed to be "the street" but with protests petering out even the feared resistance from la rue appears to have fizzled out.

Macron looks to have won his battle with 'the street' as protests lose steam
Photo: AFP

People protested across France on Thursday against President Emmanuel Macron's economic reforms but low turnout suggested that resistance to an agenda seen as too pro-business was losing steam.

The demonstrations are the fourth in a series launched in September that have done little to dent the president's ambitions, given his hefty majority in parliament.

“Macron and the bosses are waging a social war, let's plan the counterattack”, read a banner of the far-left Lutte Ouvriere (Workers' Struggle) party in Paris, where about 8,000 people turned out, according to police.

That compared with about 200,000 who participated in a September 12 protest.

The Force Ouvriere union, one of France's largest, backed the demos for the first time, having previously shown a wait-and-see attitude toward the centrist Macron government.

But in a sign of continued division between France's unions Force Ouvriere held a separate demonstration in Marseille to the main leftist CGT union.

Leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon believes that lack of unity between unions is one of the reasons why the movement has failed to stop Macron's reforms.

“Union division has cost us dearly as well as the separation of unions from politics,” said Melenchon. “There are thousands, millions of political militants ready for action but only on the condition that we call on them to act.”

Head of the CGT union Philippe Martinez agreed: “When unions are united we have a better chance of succeeding.”

So too if France's opposition on the left was united. But with the Socialist party in disarray and many on the left unwilling to back Melenchon's more radical France Insoumise party, there is no clear political opposition to Macron.

Laurent Neumann, political commentator for BFM TV said the weak mobilization against Macron was also down to the lack of a clear cause.

“When you tell people to come and protest against “liberal reforms”, what are “liberal reforms”? There are many subjects and many to come but that doesn't make a clear call to strike,” said Neumann.

Another reason for the lack of  numbers on Thursday was due to the failure of students to back the protests in big numbers as unions had hoped.

Macron claims to have a mandate for change after handily winning the presidency in May and leading his centrist Republic on the Move party to a sweeping victory in the June parliamentary elections.

The government says its overhaul of labour laws is necessary to lower unemployment, which is stuck at around 9.6 percent — about twice that of Britain or Germany — but opponents accuse Macron of trampling on cherished workers' rights.

Macron has scored major legislative triumphs including flagship reforms to France's complex labour code, which took effect in September after he used executive decrees to push them through.

The strikes and street protests sparked by the labour reforms paled in comparison with those that have thwarted similar attempts by Macron's predecessors.

Nearly 400,000 turned out against president Francois Hollande in March 2016 at the height of protests against his reform efforts.

Additional sensitive changes — of the unemployment benefits system and pensions — are on Macron's frenetic agenda.

In the southern city of Marseille, the radical-left firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon said “thousands, millions of political activists… are ready to spring into action.”

But even Melenchon, head of the France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, acknowledged recently that Macron “has the upper hand, for now”.

Protests were also held in dozens of other cities including Lyon, Nantes, Bordeaux and Strasbourg.

POLITICS

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers – French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

From coffee runs to rugby tickets and professional photos - France's election financing body has revealed some of the items it has refused to reimburse from the 2022 presidential race.

Rugby tickets, coffee and stickers - French presidential candidates chastised over expenses claims

Spending on the election trail is tightly regulated in France, with maximum campaign spends per candidate as well as a list of acceptable expenses that can be reimbursed.

In France the State pays at least some of the election campaign costs, with the budget calculated according to how many votes the candidate ends up getting. 

READ MORE: 5 things to know about French election campaign financing

On Friday, the government body (la Commission nationale des comptes de campagne et des financements politiques – or CNCCFP) released its findings for the 12 candidates who ran in the April 2022 presidential campaign. 

All of the candidates had their accounts approved, but 11 out of the 12 were refused reimbursement on certain items. Here are some of the items that did not get CNCCFP approval;

Rugby tickets 

Jean Lassalle – the wildcard ‘pro farmer’ candidate who received about three percent of votes cast in the first round of the 2022 election – bought “19 tickets to attend a rugby match” according to the CNCCFP’s findings. The organisation said it would not be reimbursing the tickets and questioned “the electoral nature of the event”. 

The total cost of the tickets was €465 (or €24.50 each).

Too many coffees

Socialist candidate, and current mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo reportedly spent at least €1,600 on coffee for her team during the campaign.

According to the CNCCFP, however, the caffeine needed to keep a presidential campaign running did not qualify under the country’s strict campaign financing rules.

Too many stickers

Hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s was told that the 1.2 million stickers that were bought – to the tune of €28,875 – to advertise the campaign would not be reimbursed. Mélenchon justified the purchasing of the stickers – saying that in the vast majority of cases they were used to build up visibility for campaign events, but CNCCFP ruled that “such a large number” was not justified. 

Mélenchon was not the only one to get in trouble for his signage. Extreme-right candidate Éric Zemmour was accused of having put up over 10,000 posters outside official places reserved for signage. The same went for the far-right’s Marine Le Pen, who decided to appeal the CNCCFP’s decision not to reimburse €300,000 spent on putting posters of her face with the phrase “M la France” on 12 campaign buses.

Poster pictures

Emmanuel Macron – who won re-election in 2022 – will not be reimbursed for the €30,000 spent on a professional photographer Soazig de la Moissonière, who works as his official photographer and took the picture for his campaign poster. 

The CNCCFP said that Macron’s team had “not sufficiently justified” the expenditure.

Expensive Airbnbs

Green party member Yannick Jadot reportedly spent €6,048 on Airbnbs in the city of Paris for some of his campaign employees – an expense that the CNCCFP said that public funds would not cover.

Translating posters

The campaign finance body also refused to reimburse the Mélenchon campaign’s decision to translate its programme into several foreign languages at a cost of €5,398.

The CNCCFP said that they did not consider the translations to be “an expense specifically intended to obtain votes” in a French election.

Best and worst in class

The extreme-right pundit Zemmour had the largest amount of money not reimbursed. Zemmour created a campaign video that used film clips and historic news footage without permission and also appeared on CNews without declaring his candidacy – because of these two offences, CNCCFP has reduced his reimbursement by €200,000. He has been hit with a separate bill of €70,000 after he was found guilty of copyright infringement over the campaign video. 

The star pupil was Nathalie Arthaud, high-school teacher and candidate for the far-left Lutte Ouvriere party, who apparently had “completely clean accounts”. A CNCCFP spokesperson told Le Parisien that if all candidate accounts were like Arthauds’, then “we would be unemployed”.

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