Will mass protests stop Macron's reforms?

Hundreds of thousands across France demonstrated on Tuesday against President Macron's planned labour market reform. Popular protests are considered the main obstacle blocking the implementation of his reforms. Commentators explain why the president won't be deterred by such opposition.

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El Periódico de Catalunya (ES) /

Head of state has good cards

Macron has better cards than his predecessor vis-à-vis France's strong unions, El Periódico de Catalunya observes:

“The reform was an important component of Macron's electoral programme and it was clear that it would meet with enormous resistance on the part of the unions. We've now seen the first signs of this, but the resistance is limited so far. Only one of the major unions signed the call to protest and the number of demonstrators was lower than under François Hollande for the same cause. What's more, Macron has two advantages vis-à-vis the unions: an absolute majority and two and a half years during which he doesn't have to worry about elections. That's quite a bonus.”

The Independent (GB) /

Strike won't shake president's resolve

The Independent is confident that Macron won't buckle in the face of protests against his labour market reform:

“All recent presidents and their prime ministers have given in to people power, scrapping allegedly essential change following strikes or the first whiff of tear gas. ... Macron has a chance to buck the trend. ... Fierce, physical turmoil will of course be a novel and unwelcome test for Macron, but the idea that even a Blackish Tuesday will somehow signal irreversible doom is well wide of the mark.”

La Tribune (FR) /

Opposition growing weaker

This summer Macron also talked to employees of the French railway company SNCF about his plans to reform France's rail transport. Their reaction shows that his call for greater willingness to reform is bearing fruit, La Tribune observes:

“Special pensions, the status as a public company, an openness to competition. In the past such words would have caused strikes right across the public transport sector. If on top of opposing the labour market reform, 'the lazy, the cynics and the extremists' [Macron's words] also decided to fight the transport reform, they could bring the country to a halt - like in the winter of 1995. That, however, is not (yet) the case, a sign that there has been a change of attitude, and that even if the public doesn't back the reforms it has resigned itself to the idea that reforms are needed.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Macron driving the French onto the streets

Macron only has himself to blame for the demonstrations against his reform plans, Der Standard criticises:

“Macron is increasingly insulting his countrymen with arrogant remarks, as if he had lost all tactfulness. Recently he complained: 'The French detest reforms.' That was tantamount to a call for demonstrations against his own project. Presumably he'll be able to implement his reforms. But at what cost? It will be years before we see whether the liberalisation of the labour market creates jobs structurally. The psychological impact of the reform seemed more important - the sense of a new beginning. But if in addition to the unions Macron manages to get the civil servants, pensioners and students out in protest as well, the dynamism will inevitably be lost.”

Libération (FR) /

The "lazy" will strike back

With his comment about "lazy" elements in French society Macron has ensured that many people will take to the streets, Libération observes:

“The 'lazy unionists' who spend their time distributing leaflets and attending meetings in smoky rooms will come. So will the 'lazy bureaucrats' who spend their days folding origami. ... They'll be joined by the 'lazy workers', condemned to sloth by their 35-hour weeks, and the 'lazy unemployed', their pockets bulging with their welfare payments, who relax by sending out CVs day and night. ... All those 'who are nothing' - to quote another of the president's expressions - who form the immense and indistinct mass of the losers, the broken, the deadbeats, the under-achievers, the outperformed, the washed-out, in a word, all those who have been excluded from the heroic gesture of Macronism - will respond to the call. That will add up to quite a few people.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Citizens fear loss of security

There is a profound mental divide between Macron and many employees, De Volkskrant's French correspondent Peter Giesen observes:

“Macron's analysis is rational, and a number of economists endorse it. But many citizens yearn for security and collective protection rather than an individual approach which leaves employees to their own devices. High unemployment is not just bad for the jobless. It robs a country of its energy and self-confidence. Thatcher and Schröder brought a new dynamic into their weary countries. Thanks to this, their legacy was never seriously questioned. This is the path that Macron, too, wants to take.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

On the path to a new France

Le Figaro has high hopes for Macron's will to reform:

“Is this really the end of the 'French malaise' - the mental disposition that has made France indifferent to world developments for the past 30 years and caused it to cling to a model that had nothing 'social' about it but the name? It's too soon to give a definitive answer to this question. But the unions' astonishingly measured reactions show that something is changing in the country. ... Macron wants to embody this 'new world'. For that reason - in contrast to many of his predecessors - he must not cede an inch to his opponents. The fewer they are, the louder they will holler. And he must not stop at the end of this first phase - the reform of the labour law. France must be rebuilt from the ground up.”

Libération (FR) /

No give and take

Libération explains why the five decrees presented by Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud are a step backwards:

“The most 'progressive' countries try to integrate the trade unions into companies' working mechanisms, for example by giving them more representation on supervisory boards. Of course, there's no mention of this in Pénicaud's project. In Macron's 'new world' the process of delocalisation will be facilitated. … True progress would have meant combining the - in some areas necessary - flexibilisation of the labour market with an improved social safety net in other areas. The logic of exchange, of mutual concessions, is almost entirely absent from the current reform. With the result that the employers' associations prevail and the trade unions condemn the reform, some more so and some less.”

L'Opinion (FR) /

A successful strategy

The government's novel, integrated approach will meet with success, L'Opinion writes approvingly:

“The new regulations presented by [Prime Minister] Edouard Philippe and [Labour Minister] Muriel Pénicaud reflect a new spirit: although they prioritise the interests of businesses, they also take account of workers rights. That has been confirmed by the for the most part moderate reactions of the unions - unlike certain caricature-like declarations from the left. ... Instead of the deliberate confrontation of recent years, this time the government has opted to rely on a bond of trust between employers and workers. It has substituted uniform regulations that apply for all occupations and all businesses with diversity, thus better reflecting the economic realities of our time.”

Il Sole 24 Ore (IT) /

Trade unions the main obstacle

The French reform is clearly modelled on Germany's "Agenda 2010" reform, but in France a key factor for its implementation is lacking, Il Sole 24 Ore comments:

“[In Germany there are] strong, representative trade unions with a joint approach that, thanks to long-standing regulations, occupy half the seats on the supervisory boards of small and medium-sized companies. … In France, by contrast, the trade unions are poorly represented but they wield tremendous power, as demonstrated by the series of strikes that have so far prevented or watered down all attempts at reforming the labour market. … So the problem is not getting the reform through the National Assembly, but ensuring it is implemented, with the - in France far from remote - chance that the trade unions won't go along with the change of mentality implicit in the reform.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Revolutionary ideas often fall on deaf ears

Macron has described his reform as a Copernican revolution of the French economy. If it works, the problems with the Eurozone can finally be addressed, NRC Handelsblad comments enthusiastically:

“Macron can prove his good will and reliability by tackling the Eurozone's biggest problem and reducing the gap in competitiveness between France and Germany. Yet a certain scepticism is called for. … A broad base of support is essential for the major reforms presented by the French president. … Macron may be convinced that France revolves around the sun. But the question is whether broad sections of the population share his revolutionary ideas.”

Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Left criticising harmless little reform

The labour market reform announced by Macron with much pomp and circumstance is a let-down, writes the Neue Zürcher Zeitung's France correspondent Nikos Tzermias:

“Yes, the reform does bring one or two advances. But they're only gradual and not in the least radical. As for the accusation by the radical left-wing populist and former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon that the new executive wants to carry out a social putsch and destroy the French welfare state, it's completely absurd. Pierre Gattaz, president of France's main pro-business organisation the Movement of French Businesses, rightly countered that the reform is just one important step in the right direction, but that labour laws need to be further simplified.”

Salzburger Nachrichten (AT) /

Faulty policy in a country in crisis

There is no indication that Macron's labour market reform will bring true change, the Salzburger Nachrichten comments:

“The flexibilisation of the labour market pushed through by the last government with considerable effort and a few tricks urgently needs to be taken futher, but instead this is being studiously avoided. Retirement at 60 has been left intact and will go on costing billions that are badly needed to promote economic growth. Unlike Germany and Austria, France hasn't got its head around globalisation. Its recipe for success was and is to focus on high-value products and services in a bid to compensate for the shift of mass production to low-wage countries. Compounding the problem is the fact that an economy that clings so tenaciously to the status quo is anything but efficient. The repercussions of this policy are what makes France a country in crisis.”

Alternatives économiques (FR) /

Real problems not being addresed

Macron is ignoring important developments on the labour market with his reform, criticises Guillaume Duval, chief editor of Alternatives économiques:

“Since Brussels eased the austerity policy somewhat and the ECB grabbed the bull by the horns, the economy is once again on an upswing and there are many new jobs. ... Now that revamping the labour law has become a priority, however, one would expect our young and modern president to tackle the 'uberisation' of certain activities by according social rights to those who work for such platforms. Or one might have thought he would try to put correct the numerous imbalances caused by the uncontrolled development of the status of the self-employed. But no, all of that will have wait.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

President should stick to his guns

Macron must hold his course on economic policy, Helsingin Sanomat believes:

“If he wants to change political culture, the old political culture must not shine through the new one. The new government stumbled right at the start because of financing scandals involving several ministers. It also didn't look good that Macron presented himself in the role of the Sun King at his meetings and appearances to while at the same time demanding budget cuts. With his central goals, however, he is on the right track. His proposed cuts and reforms for the French economy and labour market are essential.”