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French government sets labour reform date as Macron slumps in polls

President Emmanuel Macron (C) visits a recreation centre
President Emmanuel Macron (C) visits a recreation centre Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has vowed to press on with the government's planned labour reform, despite an apparent slump in popularity for his boss, President Emmanuel Macron. And, as the first part of a clean-government bill made it through parliament, anti-corruption police were prevented from entering the Senate to collect information for an inquiry into a Macron ally and former minister.

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"Efficiency is all that matters," Philippe told Friday's Le Parisien newspaper when asked about the government's problems and his own low profile compared to the president's.

An opinion poll published Thursday showed Macron's popularity ratings had fallen to 36 percent, down seven points in less than a month, with 49 percent having a negative view, up 13 percent since his election on 7 May.

Its findings confirmed a trend shown in a poll taken shortly beforehand, which found the president's popularity had fallen 10 points to 54 percent.

"People who spend their time watching the polls or, worse still, governing according to the polls have failed," was Philippe's phlegmatic response. "I'm going to try not to make the same mistake."

Labour reform to be ready end August

The prime minister announced that the labour reforms, which are to be enacted by a form of decree, will be sent to the Constitutional Council on 31 August.

Trade unions and left-wing political parties have organised two days of action against the plan in September.

Edouard dismissed their claim that the proposals, which include extending the use of part-time contracts and replacing national agreements by company-wide ones on some questions, favour employers at workers' expense.

"I'm not here to please anybody in particular, I'm here to put through the commitments of the president of the republic and get the country going again," the prime minister said.

Cuts, gaffes and scandals

In its hurry to put through Macron's programme and tackle the country's budget deficit, the government has introduced a number of measures that have proved controversial - cutting public spending by 4.5 billion euros more than originally planned, blocking 300 million euros of finance to local government and slicing five euros a month off housing benefit.

Ministers and MPs, many of whom have little political experience, have also committed a number of gaffes - bungling the chairing of parliamentary debates and failing to defend their own proposals in committees.

Even Macron's head of communications, Sibeth Ndiaye, has come under fire for calling journalists to complain forcefully about articles she dislikes and allegedly sending a less-than-respectful tweet about the death of former minister Simone Veil, an accusation she denies.

Clean-government bill passed

There was good news for the government on Thursday evening, however, when the first of its bills to clean up political ethics was passed. Banning MPs from employing family members, introducing more oversight over expenses and limiting the influence of lobbies were among its provisions.

But even that victory has been tarnished by corruption allegations concerning ministers, three of whom have resigned as their party, MoDem, is investigated for fake jobs allegations.

Another MoDem member, former justice minister Michel Mercier, has been accused of providing parliamentary assistants' jobs for two of his daughters.

One of them, Véronique, who is an art historian specialising in relics of St Thomas à Beckett, had a contract to work for her father in the Senate from 2012-2014, even though, according tothe Canard Enchaîné weekly, she lived in London at the time and was working at University College London.

Mercier was appointed to the Constitutional Council on 2 August.

Police denied entry to Senate

When anti-corruption police turned up at the Senate with a mandate to collect evidence relating to the allegations, the body's president, Gérard Larcher, forbade them to enter, insisting he would pass on whatever elements he considered relevant.

Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud has also faced criticism for her role in two potential scandals - one concerning a contract for a trip to Las Vegas by Macron when he was economy minister, the other over a profit of more than a million euros she made on the sale of shares whose value soared due to a redundancy programme she oversaw at dairy products company Danone.

"Undoubtedly some people in this country are outraged by the fact that people make money, even a lot of money," Philippe commented on that controversy. "I don't share that view as long as it's legal and they pay their taxes."

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