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POLITICS

Macron’s 3 big battles in France this autumn

The French parliament is back and (at least) three big battles are looming - we take a look at the political clashes to come, and why they could spread onto the streets.

Macron's 3 big battles in France this autumn
French parliament in Paris on October 3, 2022. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

After a later-than-usual start (due to a late sitting in the summer) the French parliament began its new term this week, with some highly contentious reforms on the agenda.

Emmanuel Macron’s government is to push ahead with an ambitious programme of reforms, despite losing its absolute majority in the parliamentary elections in June and it seems likely that some major political clashes are on the horizon.

Here are three of the biggest issues;

Unemployment reform

This is the latest stage in Macron’s long-term reform of the unemployment system – part of his drive towards zero unemployment in France which also saw several big reforms during his first term as president. 

The current unemployment benefits system still does not encourage “a return to employment,” said Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt.

“It’s unacceptable to still have a 7 percent unemployment rate, and bosses who cannot recruit.”

The detail: The government wants to change eligibility requirements, such as the minimum number of months employees must have worked out of the last 24 (currently 6 months) to qualify for benefits, as well as the maximum duration of compensation, which is currently between 24 to 36 months depending on age. 

Listen to more on this and other topics in our Talking France podcast – find it HERE or on the link below.

Benefits in France are calculated as a percentage of your former income, with a ceiling for high earners. The government wants to lower this ceiling, so that people who previously earned more than €4,500 (gross) per month would see a 30 percent reduction in their benefits after seven months unemployed. This does not affect over 57s. 

The government also hopes to calculate the daily reference wage based by taking into account both days worked and days not worked during the 24 months preceding unemployment. This would not change the calculation for people who were previously full-time employees, but seasonal workers or jobseekers who alternated between being unemployed and being employed, could see a decrease in benefits.

Finally, the bill seeks to shift the conditions for unemployment insurance based on the situation of the labour market – making it “stricter when too many jobs are left unfilled, and more generous when unemployment is high”.

Status: Debates have begun in the Assemblée nationale on this bill, which is due to be sent to the Senate on October 25th. The left alliance bloc La Nupes strongly opposes the changes, as do many unions. Even if the bill is passed, it is likely that many of the details will change due to Assemblée and Senate amendments. 

Pension reform

Pension reform proved to be one of the most controversial reforms of Macron’s first term, leading to the longest-running transport strikes since 1968.

Although he eventually managed to get his reforms passed, they were never implemented due to the pandemic.

Now Macron wants to bring back to parliament the original reform, plus some new additions and pass the whole package as a new bill.

In detail: The 2019 reforms were largely about simplifying the pension system, doing away with the 42 different pension regimes (for different professions) and creating a single, streamlined system. The government said the system would make it easier for people who switched professions during their working lives, as well as helping people disadvantaged by the old system such as farmers and women who had long career breaks.

The most controversial aspect, however, was the axing of the ‘special regimes’ which allowed certain groups (including train drivers) to retire early.

The new part of the reform is even more controversial – Macron is seeking to increase the legal retirement age, which is currently 62 years old, to 65. 

This would be done by gradually raising the age by four months per year, so that by 2031, 65 would become the age of retirement overall. The proposal retains exemptions for certain physically demanding or high-risk jobs, to allow people to retire earlier, as well as people who began work when they were under 18.

Status: This won’t be brought in front of parliament in the near future, but it will still be a battleground this autumn.

The government has committed to holding a consultation involving unions some time before Christmas, with the intention that the law would then be voted on in Parliament in early 2023. 

Macron made raising the pension age part of his successful presidential election campaign in April, but with MPs from across the political spectrum implacably opposed, this seems very unlikely to be passed in parliament. The government has the option to use the constitutional tool known as Article 49.3 to push it through anyway, although they risk the opposition tabling a motion of no confidence if they use the Article. If that happens, Macron has the option to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

Even before the consultation has begun the reform has proved hugely unpopular with one strike already called and others planned as unions vow to oppose it every step of the way. 

The 2023 Budget

As is usual in Autumn, the Finance Minister has produced a budget for the year ahead – normally these are debated in parliament in September or October and measures come into effect in January. 

The detail: The main thrust of the budget is to protect households and the French economy from inflation and the cost-of-living crisis – extending measures like energy price caps and raising salaries for public-sector employees.

To finance the package, the French government is hoping to borrow a record €270 billion. French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, explained during a press conference that “there’s a large amount of spending because of gas,” calling it a “protective budget at a time of great uncertainties.”

It’s important to note that the figures in the budget only add up if pension reform is passed as the government intends.

Status: The budget will be discussed in parliament starting on October 10th. 

The centre-right party, Les Républicains (LR) has already expressed its disapproval of the budget and indicated that its MPs do not intend to vote for it. If the LR abstains from voting, then the presidential majority ought to be able to push the budget through with a simple majority.

However, if the LR votes against the budget, then this could force the government to use Article 49.3. 

Other opposition groups, such as the left-wing Nupes coalition and Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, will put pressure on Macron’s majority to include a tax on the “super-profits” (windfall profits) of large companies who benefited from the energy crisis and pandemic.

Other topics

Lawmakers will likely also consider the topic of abortion this fall. Members of President Macron’s coalition, as well as those in the left-wing Nupes alliance, have called for the right to abortion to be enshrined in the French constitution – after the United States’ Supreme Court did away with the right to abortion in the US. 

The green party plans to introduce a bill to make abortion a constitutional right on October 19th.

The War in Ukraine will also be on the agenda, particularly the question of sanctions. 

Debates began on October 3rd, and were marked by disagreements between the Presidential majority and the far-right Rassemblement National, whose MPs have criticised the “counterproductive impact of sanctions” on the the cost of living crisis in France. Meanwhile, the prime minister referenced plans to provide aid for French households who have hosted Ukrainian refugees, as well as her continued support for sanctions against Russia.

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POLITICS

‘A good thing’ for footballers to express values, says France’s PM

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne - speaking in Berlin - said that footballers should be allowed to express their values, amid controversy over FIFA's stance against the 'OneLove' armband on the pitch.

'A good thing' for footballers to express values, says France's PM

“There are rules for what happens on the field but I think it’s a good thing for players to be able to express themselves on the values that we obviously completely share, while respecting the rules of the tournament,” said Borne at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.

Germany’s players made headlines before Wednesday’s shock loss to Japan when the team lined up for their pre-match photo with their hands covering their mouths after FIFA’s threat to sanction players wearing the rainbow-themed armband.

Seven European nations, including Germany, had previously planned for their captains to wear the armband, but backed down over FIFA’s warning.

Following Germany’s action, Wales and the Netherlands have since come out to say they would not mirror the protest.

Borne’s visit to Germany was her first since she was named to her post in May.

Following talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the two leaders signed an agreement for “mutual support” on “guaranteeing their energy supplies”.

Concrete measures outlined in the deal include France sending Germany gas supplies as Berlin seeks to make up for gaping holes in deliveries from Russia.

Germany meanwhile would help France “secure its electricity supplies over winter”, according to the document.

France had since 1981 been a net exporter of electricity to its neighbours because of its nuclear plants. But maintenance issues dogging the plants have left France at risk of power cuts in case of an extremely cold winter.

The two leaders also affirmed their countries’ commitment to backing Ukraine “to the end of” its conflict with invaders Russia.

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