France’s Emmanuel Macron outlines vision for Franco-German alliance

French President Macron has said boosting cooperation with Germany was crucial to regaining the trust of European voters. His comments came ahead of his first EU leaders summit in Brussels.

Frankreich Wahlen Macron (picture alliance/AP Photo/T.Camus)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called on Germany to work alongside France in fostering a fresh approach to European politics and winning back the trust of people feeling disenfranchised by the EU.

Speaking to a number of European newspapers ahead of his first EU leader summit in Brussels on Thursday, Macron said the greatest threat facing the bloc was the propensity for lawmakers and voters to veer away from liberal policies.

Read more: Opinion: Europe, En Marche!

“The question now is: will Europe succeed in defending the deep values it brought to the world for decades, or will it be wiped out by the rise in illiberal democracies and authoritarian regimes,” he said.

Watch video01:17

Let The Reform Begin

The French president called on Germany and France to drive the necessary reforms needed to reconcile citizens with the European project. Macron’s policy roadmap would see the EU promote “greater economic and social wellbeing” and introduce tighter rules on workers and make it harder for companies to employ low-wage labor from eastern Europe.

“One country’s strength cannot feed on the weakness of others,” Macron told reporters. The French president insisted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in total agreement and realized the need for deeper cooperation. “Germany, which underwent a series of reforms around 15 years ago, is realizing that this isn’t viable,” he said.

Doubts remain over new eurozone ministry

One area where Macron’s vision has drawn skepticism in Berlin concerns the euro currency. The French president has called for a common eurozone budget and a democratically controlled “Euro Ministry.”

Reports last month suggested that the proposal had been rejected in Berlin by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble.

Read more: Macron’s EU ideals meet Merkel’s mastery

However, Macron insisted on Thursday that it was the “only means of achieving more convergence within the eurozone,” and that “Germany does not it deny it.”

On Tuesday, Merkel signaled that she would be open to the idea of a eurozone budget.

“We could, of course, consider a common finance minister, if the conditions are right,” the chancellor said in a speech at the annual congress held by Germany’s largest industrial lobby, the Federation of German Industries. However, Merkel ruled out any European body taking responsibility for member states’ risks and liabilities for debt.

Watch video25:59

Victory for Macron – Challenge for Europe?

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Opinion: Emmanuel Macron’s purges in Paris

The new French president has lost his liberal coalition partner under Francois Bayrou. All for the better: Only now can Emmanuel Macron maintain his credibility, argues DW’s Max Hofmann.

Emmanuel Macron und Francois Bayrou (Picture alliance/dpa/I. Kalashnikova/Sputnik)

“Démission de courtoisie” – the collective resignation of a government that customarily happens after a French parliamentary election – can be loosely translated as a “resignation out of courtesy.” The prime minister withdraws his government and sends them, sometimes with slight changes, back into the race – a formality to take into account new insights gleaned from the election. And so it goes this time as well. But what’s happening in France has nothing to do with courtesy. It’s about credibility.

Four ministers have left (or more precisely: been forced to leave) the cabinet, including all three from the “Mouvement Democrate” (MoDem) under the leadership of centrist Francois Bayrou, himself a political institution in France. Bayrou was hoping to stay on as justice minister and had already announced a new law for the “moral improvement of political life,” or, less pompously, an anti-corruption law. With his proposal he was towing the line of the young president, who has promised to clean up wasteful spending of taxpayers’ money and the use of high-powered positions in government for self-enrichment and nepotism.

Hofmann Max Kommentarbild Max Hoffman is head of DW’s Brussels bureau

Macron forced to take action

Too bad that Bayrou’s entire party has now been targeted by investigations: It’s suspected of misappropriating EU funds to finance some of its official activities, possibly violating a rule stating that the two things must be kept separate. In previous governments such an accusation would have been dismissed as trivial. And compared to what the conservative presidential candidate Francois Fillon has been accused of doing – giving his wife up to a million dollars for heretofore unknown reasons – it probably is. But Emmanuel Macron assumed office promising to clean up politics, and now he must follow words with deeds.

It’s only logical, then, that the young president – who is keeping his cabinet on a very short leash – is starting to clamp down. In fact, there’s no other option for him. The extremely low turnout in the parliamentary elections shows that the political turmoil in France hasn’t dissipated overnight.

Quite the contrary: on the far left and the far right, La France Insoumise and the National Front are waiting eagerly for the government’s first missteps so that they can reap the radical potential of the French electorate. Because he didn’t want to descend into the same elitist corruption of his predecessors, Macron had to take action.

The situation isn’t pretty for the president. First, it never looks good to mistreat a minister who’s already in office. One wonders if it’s really so difficult to do a more thorough job of reviewing potential problems before appointing someone to a position in the government. Second, Macron has been hard-pressed for experienced and “clean” ministers. Members of MoDem are probably out of the running, since even their boss had to go. The president has thus lost his de facto coalition partner. He must now close the gaps from within his own ranks. That won’t be easy, since over half of his party’s members are political newcomers. While Macron is following through on his promise to innovate, at the same time the bar for competence is being set quite low.

Coalition lost, credibility saved

The president himself may have been irritated over the past few days by having to enter into a coalition with MoDem. After all, he won the majority in parliament without Bayrou and Co. It would have been better if his party, “La République En Marche,” had not relinquished seats to some of his partners, but a few weeks ago Macron probably thought his young party was dependent on an alliance with MoDem. On the other hand, it’s better to make a painful break than to draw out the agony. The cooperation wouldn’t have been easy anyway. Now Macron has even more freedom, even if his majority has shrunk due to the absence of his partner. But for the president, a small majority is still better than no credibility.

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party wins majority in parliament

French President Emmanuel Macron’s LREM party has won a large majority in parliamentary elections which will enable it to push through reforms. But there was a record, low turnout.

Watch video00:44

LREM acting president: ‘The size of this majority provides France with an opportunity’

Macron’s year-old Republique en Marche (Republic on the Move, LREM) and Modem allies were set to win between 350 and 361 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly, based on partial results after the second round of the legislative elections announced shortly after midnight. Before voting closed, pollsters had predicted LREM would win between 400 and 470 seats.

Macron’s success was marked by record low turnout of just under 44 percent.

With 82 percent of the vote counted, the Interior Ministry said Macron’s party had 42 percent of the vote, the conservative Republicans had 22 percent and the far-right Front National 10 percent. The Socialists, who held the presidency before Macron’s independent presidential victory in May, were decimated and only won six percent of the vote.

Following the initial results, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the voters had given a clear majority to President Macron, and that his government was “humbled and determined” after securing a victory in the polls.

A diverse National Assembly

Philippe also said the diversity of new lawmakers was a good sign for France. “This majority will have a mission: to work for France,” the PM said. “With their vote, the French have, by a wide majority, chosen hope over rage, optimism over pessimism, confidence over withdrawal.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the first to congratulate Macron. She lauded him for winning a “clear parliamentary majority” in elections Sunday, government spokesman Steffen Seibert said. Seibert added, in a tweet, that Merkel wished for “further good cooperation for Germany, France, Europe.”

Kanzlerin : Glückwunsch, @EmmanuelMacron, zur klaren parlamentarischen Mehrheit +auf weiter gute Zusammenarbeit für DEU, FRA, Europa.

Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was quoted on Twitter by his ministry as saying “the road is clear for reforms, in France and in Europe.”

AM @sigmargabriel: Durch-Marche von @EmmanuelMacron auch in Assemblée nationale! Der Weg ist frei für Reformen, in Frankreich und in Europa.

FN Le Pen’s first seat

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who lost to Macron in the presidential election, won a seat in parliament for the first time, her National Front party confirmed. She won her northern constituency of Henin-Beaumont with a large majority and said would “fight with all necessary means the harmful projects of the government.”

Projections showed the conservative Republicans and their allies to be the largest opposition group with 97-133 seats while the Socialist Party and its partners will secure 29-49 seats.

Le Pen’s National Front may get four to eight seats but the party looked set to fall well short of its 15-seat target which would allow it to form a parliamentary group and benefit from privileges. “It is absolutely scandalous that a movement such as ours, which won … 3 million votes in the first round of these legislative elections, cannot form a group in the National Assembly,” Le Pen said.

Watch video05:08

Laetitia Avia, En Marche party candidate, speaks to DW’s Max Hofmann

Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, the secretary general of the Socialist Party, announced his resignation from the party leadership, saying “the defeat of the left” in the election “cannot be overlooked.” He said the Socialist party needed to change its ideas and its organization and that a “collective leadership” would replace him.

Low turnout

During last Sunday’s first round of voting, LREM garnered 32.3 percent of the vote. In French elections, if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote in the first round, a runoff is held between the top two vote-getters.

The voter turnout on Sunday was lower than expected, with the final turnout estimated at between 42 and 43 percent. By midday Sunday, only 17.75 percent of voters had cast a ballot, down from the 21.41 percent recorded at the same time of day during the 2012 parliamentary run-off vote.

– Emmanuel Macron’s storming of the Bastille

A voter collect ballots ahead of voting (picture alliance/AP Photo/C. Paris)Election fatigue was said to have kept voters from the polls on Sunday

A mandate to push through reforms

The result means that Macron should be able to push through both Prime Minister Philippe’s government as well as proposed liberalizing reforms that are opposed by both parties on the left and the far-right National Front.

LREM lawmakers can now overhaul France’s labor policies by cutting tens of thousands of public-sector jobs and overhauling the pension system.

“From this evening, it is time for the presidential majority to get to work,” the prime minister said. “This majority will be united behind the government to put the president’s program into action.”

Rival parties spent the last week trying to motivate their supporters, alerting them to the risks of a presidential supermajority.

France’s trade unions also warned Macron against using his majority to impose austerity measures.

Watch video01:39

Macron hopes popularity will translate into reforms

shs/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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Emmanuel Macron’s storming of the Bastille

French President Emmanuel Macron’s clear victory in the first round of French parliamentary elections has completely changed the political party system – for now. The defeated mainstream parties can still bounce back.

Frankreich | Parlamentswahlen - Präsident Emmanuel Macron beim Verlassen des Wahllokals (picture-alliance/abaca/E. Blondet)

Macron’s winning streak continues. Almost a month ago, he moved into the Elysee Palace and next Sunday, he expects a solid majority for his newly-formed centrist party La Republique en Marche (LREM) and its allies after the second round of legislative elections. The Republicans and the Front National suffered setbacks in the first round and the Socialists failed miserably.

It seems like the political system has gone off the rails. Established parties are a thing of the past; categories like left and right are anachronistic. If La Republique en Marche really does end up winning 455 of the 577 seats in France’s National Assembly, then it would be one of the largest parliamentary majorities in France since the foundation of the Fifth Republic in 1958.

‘Unique and absolutely remarkable’

It is clear that Macron’s seemingly unstoppable success can be attributed to the failures of his predecessors. High unemployment and the terrorist threat weigh heavily on the mood of the French. Furthermore, there is an increasing distrust of politicians. “The electoral victory of a politician who was unknown three years ago, who has never held an elected office and has no party base, is a declaration of a considerable crisis of representation and deep disrepute of France’s political elite,” said political scientist Joachim Schild in an interview with the German newspaper Trierischer Volksfreund at the beginning of May.

Parlamentswahl in Frankreich 2017 Jubel bei der Partei En Marche Macron (picture-alliance/Ap Photo/T. Camus)LREM activists celebrate but can the vote change things in France?

It comes as no surprise that a newly elected president in France has won enough votes for an absolute majority. Ever since a constitutional change in 2000, every president has achieved this, including Macron’s direct predecessor, Francois Hollande. The establishment of the LREM movement is also nothing unusual. New parties, party divisions and name changes are common in the French political landscape.

Yet the success of LREM is unique in two ways. “Before Macron, there has never been a cross-party government with a president who says he would like to work with the right and the left,” says Eileen Keller, a political scientist who works for the Franco-German Institute (DFI) in the German city of Ludwigsburg. Also, the fact that someone who is “incredibly successful first wins the presidential election and then wins such a large majority in the National Assembly in such a short period of time is unique and absolutely remarkable.”

The tides can turn quickly

The center could be strengthened by Macron, which means that future coalitions can sway to the left or right. It is completely unclear whether the success of a 39-year-old pro-European will have a lasting effect on the political system, as French election laws encourage the formation of different camps and thus, changing majorities. Small parties have no chance of entering parliament on their own, but they can help stabilize majority parties. “There are good reasons to believe the party landscape is evolving, also as a reaction to the new En Marche bloc,” explains Keller. Macron’s overwhelming majority could vanish into thin air within five years, especially because it is based on a historically low voter turnout of 15 percent. No one can really tell how much voter support Macron can rely on for his reform plans.

 Eileen Keller (Deutsch-französisches Institut)Eileen Keller of the Franco-German Institute (DFI) in the city of Ludwigsburg

Also, there is a need to wait and see how Macron’s camp fares as a parliamentary majority. “They are all new faces. We do not know how these people will fulfill their political duties. We do not know to what extent they are willing to internally distance themselves from Macron and his line,” Keller said.

Weakened, but not defeated

The established parties have without doubt been weakened after the weekend’s defeats, especially because each parliamentary seat is tied to funding. But the Republicans still have a solid base, says Keller. She adds, “The situation is bleak for the Socialists because they first must fight for survival. But that can change if a part of Macron’s huge majority leaves or changes direction.”

While the left and Jean-Luc Melenchon are busy keeping their parties and alliance from falling apart, the conservatives are divided into two camps: one has defected to Macron and the other has decided to act as a constructive opposition party that may decide to block certain presidential projects.

And what happened to the Front National? Marine LePen was not able to ride on the wave of her successful presidential bid and managed to mobilize very few voters. “I think the momentum has been completely lost and LePen’s reputation is a bit tarnished,” says Eileen Keller. It looks like the Front National has to gather strength again. “My guess is that the party will not really have an impact on politics in the coming weeks and months,” she analyzed. If this turns out to be true, then the French president would have yet another reason to celebrate.

Watch video02:08

France: Macron’s party wins big in 1st round

 

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Macron accuses RT and Sputnik of ‘behaving like deceitful propaganda’

Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron explained his team’s decision to deny RT and Sputnik, both Moscow-based news outlets, accreditation during his campaign, by labeling the media outlets as “propaganda.”

READ MORE: ‘Putin and I have disagreements, discussed them in frank exchange’ – Macron

They didn’t act like the media, like journalists. They behaved like deceitful propaganda,” Macron told RT France head Xenia Fedorova during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Versailles.

I have always had an exemplary relationship with foreign journalists, but they have to be real journalists,” explained Macron, who defeated Marine Le Pen in the second round of the election, earlier this month. “All foreign journalists, including Russian journalists, had access to my campaign.”

Macron described RT and Sputnik as “organs of influence and propaganda,” adding that both “produced infamous counter-truths about him.”

Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow “does not agree” with Macron’s statements about the two news organizations.

RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said that Macron’s attack on a news outlet he disagrees with is a threat to freedom of speech.

Despite the numerous accusations made throughout the duration of the French presidential campaign, to this day not a single example, not a single piece of evidence, has been presented to support the claims that RT spread any slander or ‘fake news’ about Mr. Macron,” Simonyan said in a statement. “By labeling any news reporting he disagrees with ‘fake news,’ President Macron sets a dangerous precedent that threatens both freedom of speech and journalism at large.”

“This is a joke,” Jean-Pierre Thomas, a Russian-French relations expert told RT from Paris. “Everyone knows, including Mr Macron that the media has to be diverse. In France, 99 percent of the media were campaigning for Macron, if we do not allow outside media, what is the point?”

Last month’s accreditation delay for RT and Sputnik, which ended up becoming an outright refusal, provoked a heated reaction from Moscow.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova called it “deliberate and bare-faced discrimination against Russian media by the presidential candidate of a state that has historically been vigilant when it comes to free speech.”

Simonyan accused Macron’s team back then of “building electoral campaign on lies about RT and Sputnik.”

Macron’s campaign repeatedly accused Russia of interference in the election, claiming that Russian hackers attempted to gain access to its data, and impede the work of its website. A trove of communication purportedly from Macron’s staff was leaked on the internet a day before the run-off election. Moscow has staunchly denied any interference.

Despite an anticipated coolness in relations, the Russian president is one of the first world leaders to travel to Paris since Macron’s convincing election win.

On Monday, the pair spent three hours in what the French leader called a “frank exchange of views,” which Putin said would lead to a “qualitative” improvement in relations between the two countries.

European allies see the two sides of Trump

By Noah Barkin
ReutersMay 28, 2017
NATO Allies Still Nervous After Trump’s Visit
NATO Allies Still Nervous After Trump’s Visit
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By Noah Barkin

TAORMINA, Italy (Reuters) – In Sicily, Donald Trump listened attentively during complex G7 debates over trade and climate change, smiled for the cameras, and for the most part refrained from provocative tweets.

In Brussels, he bashed NATO partners for not spending more on defense, shoved the prime minister of Montenegro and renewed his attacks on Germany’s trade surplus with the United States.

America’s allies witnessed the two sides of Trump on his first foreign trip as U.S. president, a nine-day tour that began with sword dancing in Saudi Arabia and vague pledges in Israel to deliver Middle East peace.

As Trump headed home, European officials were left with mixed feelings: relief that he had been patient enough to listen to their arguments and unsettled by a Jekyll-and-Hyde figure who is still finding his way on the big policy issues.

“It all fits with his strategic ambiguity approach to life,” said Julianne Smith of the Centre for a New American Security. “It may do wonders when dealing with adversaries. But it doesn’t work when dealing with allies,” she said.

Other leaders of the Group of Seven nations had viewed with trepidation their summit, held at a cliff-top hotel overlooking the Mediterranean, after four preparatory meetings failed to clear up differences with the Trump administration on trade, how to deal with Russia and climate change.

But in the end, officials said, the result was better than they had feared.

The final communique acknowledged a split between the United States and its six partners over honoring the 2015 Paris accord on climate change. That followed a debate with Trump that German Chancellor Angela Merkel described as “very dissatisfying”.

However on trade, Trump bowed to pressure from allies to retain a pledge to fight protectionism. And on Russia, he did not insist on removing – as some allies had feared – the threat of additional sanctions for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

“I found him very willing to engage, very curious, with an ability and desire to ask questions and to learn from all his interlocutors,” said Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, the G7 summit’s host.

NATO “DISASTER”

Still, there was irritation at Trump’s refusal to show his hand on the Paris agreement to curb carbon emissions. Near the end of the summit, he tweeted teasingly that he would make a decision on Paris next week, leaving delegations to scratch their heads about why he could not commit in Taormina.

The most critical words were reserved for Trump’s appearance at NATO headquarters in Brussels, which was described as a “disaster” by more than one European official.

With the leaders of America’s NATO partners standing like school children behind him, Trump upbraided them for not spending more on defense and repeated the charge that some members owed “massive amounts of money” from past years – even though allied contributions are voluntary.

Most disturbingly for allies, Trump did not personally affirm his commitment to Article 5, NATO’s mutual defense doctrine, after pre-trip signals from the White House that he would do just that. Trump also failed to mention Russia, which remains NATO’s raison d’etre in the eyes of most Europeans.

It was a speech that reminded some of Trump’s doom-laden inauguration address in January, one that seemed written for the hardest of his hard-core domestic audience. “Proud of @realDonaldTrump for telling NATO deadbeats to pay up or shut up,” former Republican governor Mike Huckabee tweeted in response.

Trump’s appearance in Brussels was particularly galling to the Germans, who after months of painstaking relationship building with Trump – including Merkel’s invitation to his daughter Ivanka for a G20 women’s summit in Berlin – found themselves under attack from him on two fronts.

Before heading to NATO, Trump criticized Germany’s trade surplus in a private meeting with senior European Union officials.

“If Trump really wants to go down a path of isolation, it will only speed up China’s rise to the top,” one senior German official grumbled.

ZERO-SUM

Beyond the rhetoric, Trump’s body language also confounded his hosts. He muscled aside Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic as NATO leaders walked into the alliance’s new headquarters for a photo session.

And he engaged in two alpha-male handshakes with France’s new 39-year-old President Emmanuel Macron, who seemed to get the better of Trump on both occasions.

The macho posturing in Europe contrasted to the images, a few days earlier, of Trump and his team swaying, swords in hand, with the absolute rulers of Saudi Arabia at a lavish welcome ceremony given by King Salman.

Summing up the tour on Saturday, Trump’s advisers seemed most enthused about the Saudi leg, where he clinched a $110 billion arms deal and forged what one aide described as a “personal bond” with the king.

“The president was able to make some of the most amazing deals that have really been made by any administration ever,” enthused his economic adviser Gary Cohn.

Daniela Schwarzer, research director at the German Council of Foreign Relations in Berlin, said the trip had confirmed Trump’s “zero-sum game” view of the world in which you are either a winner or a loser and relationships are transactional.

“His rhetoric and actions suggest he does not consider it a priority to build good and engaging relations with allies the U.S. so far considered its most important ones,” she said.

(Writing by Noah Barkin; Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by David Stamp)

France: ‘Unemployment is our biggest economic problem’

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has unveiled his new cabinet. It inherits a difficult legacy, in particular a sluggish economy dogged by years of high unemployment. DW’s Doris Pundy reports from Paris.

Paris Wochenblatt Marianne Macron Cover (DW/D. Pundy)“The hardest part is yet to come” reads this French weekly’s headline

It is a quiet scene on Tuesday near the monument commemorating the French Revolution on Paris’s Square of the Republic. Traditionally, the statue is the starting point for protests taking place in the French capital. All traces of the most recent large demonstration on May 1 have disappeared. In a tiny alley less than 300 meters from here is the office shared by Claire Pauchet and Bernard Aznar. They’re fighting for the rights of the unemployed and those who only have unstable work. They know the Square of the Republic very well. Both were there when rallies against former president Francois Hollande’s labor market reforms went on for weeks.

Hollande’s poor results

“Even if we try to be objective – we can certainly not say that Hollande made a strong commitment the rights of the weak,” says Aznar, leader of the National Movement of Unemployed and Precarious Workers (MNCP).

The walls of the small office are plastered with photos taken during demonstrations. Hollande, he adds, was a very business-friendly president, with his former deputy secretary general, Emmanuel Macron, leaving his mark in this respect. The activists fear that there will be more business-friendly reforms in the future, and they want the new government to take the concerns of out-of-work people seriously and offer them alternatives..

Paris Politikaktivisten Bernard Aznar Claire Pauchet (DW/D. Pundy)Aznar and Pauchet fight for the rights of the unemployed

“Macron wants to facilitate business creation, but you have to bear in mind what he really means,” says Claire Pauchet. “That means that everyone is to become self-employed, like those young people riding on bicycles who deliver food to people’s doors. All of them are not employed, they don’t have social security, they have nothing!”

“Unemployment is our biggest economic problem, along with the trade deficit and the high public debt,” explains Paris-based economist Philippe Crevel. “In France, it is higher than the European average. We are as badly affected by it as Italy, Spain, or Greece.”

Almost 10 percent of all French adults don’t have a job. For those who are under 25, that figure rises to almost 25 percent.

Loss of time

“For the last 15 years, there have been attempts at improving the labor market situation. However, one president follows in the footsteps of another, ” says Crevel, adding nothing ever changed. Labor costs continued to be too high, working hours too inflexible, and France’s workers were not sufficiently qualified to cope shift to the digital age.

“Emmanuel Macron faces enormous responsibilities. Now, action must really be taken,” Crevel says. In order to reduce France’s unemployment sustainably, the economist has proposed a series of reforms: lower social security contributions, better education, more investment and more expertise.

Paris Vincent Godebout SNC (DW/D. Pundy)Volunteer Patrick Vignaux (r), pictured here with SNC president Vincent Godebout

Crevel believes that Macron’s chances are good: “He is young, energetic and does not belong to any of France’s traditional political parties.” Macron and his new party “La Republique en Marche” will be competing in parliamentary elections in June. “The party is facing a huge challenge,” says Crevel. “It currently does not have a single seat, but it needs an an absolute majority.”

“Macron’s five-year spell as president won’t be sufficient to change everything for the better in France,” says Patrick Vignaux. “However, the fact that we will now finally have some movement is what counts.”

For more than 10 years, Vignaux has been volunteering to help the unemployed. Initially, he worked with the “New Solidarity in the Face of Unemployment” (SNC) association for only a few hours per week. A few months ago, he asked his employer to allow him a year off to be able to commit himself full-time.

Opposition to reforms

“Francois Hollande did try to improve the labor market situation,” says Vignaux, “but he wasn’t successful.” During Hollande’s tenure, unemployment was reduced by a mere 0.1 percent. At one point, it even reached a record high of nearly 11 percent. “We need extensive economic reforms,” says Vignaux, who also calls for better job training.

Frankreich Protest gegen Arbeitsreformgesetz in Paris (picture-alliance/dpa/I. Langsdon)Paris’s Place de la Republique was the meeting point for those who protested Hollande’s economic reforms in 2016

In 2016, thousands protested in Paris and other French cities against the labor market reforms planned by Hollande’s government. The former president intended to revise labor agreements and loosen overtime regulations, in addition to reducing employment protection. After months of demonstrations and strikes, Hollande passed the labor market law by presidential decree, in order to bypass a vote in parliament.

“The labor unions are already bracing themselves for the follow-up battle,” says the economist Crevel. “I’m convinced we’ll hear a lot from them during the next couple of months.”

Emmanuel Macron has said he will attempt to pass initial economic reforms as early as this summer, also by presidential decree. And indeed, this doesn’t go down well with the activists: “If it turns out to be necessary during Macron’s tenure, we will take to the streets again,” says Claire Pauchet.

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