Macron takes a page from Trump
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has signed a controversial set of executive orders making sweeping changes to France’s complex labour laws at a highly stage-managed ceremony in the style of the US president, Donald Trump.
The defiant signing ceremony – televised live from Macron’s desk in the Élysée Palace on Friday – appears to be part of the president’s drive to present himself as a reformer prepared to push through changes.
Macron said his wide-ranging, pro-business reforms were “without precedent” in France’s postwar Fifth Republic.
Two days of protests led by one trade union this month saw demonstrators take to the streets against Macron’s plans, which critics said would benefit business leaders and not workers.
Macron’s changes to labour laws, which will affect all private sector workers in France, include a cap on payouts for unfair dismissals and greater freedom for employers to hire and fire. Employers will be given more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers while reducing the costs of firing staff. The government argues this will help France turn around decades of mass unemployment.
The latest day of protest this week saw far fewer demonstrators than last year’s vast protests against the Socialist president François Hollande’s previous effort to loosen labour laws. More street protests are planned in the coming days. On Saturday, the leftwing MP Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his movement, La France Insoumise (Unbowed France), will hold a carefully planned protest day before hauliers block roads on Monday. Other street protests are planned on other issues this autumn – from public sector cuts to pensioners.
The centrist Macron, who beat the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen to win the presidency in May, told CNN this week: “I do believe in democracy. And democracy is not in the street.”
Public opinion is divided, according to a recent BVA poll, with most respondents saying they think the labour law changes will boost France’s competitiveness but fail to improve employees’ working conditions.
Macron’s critics have said his use of executive orders to push through the changes at record speed was monarchical.
Macron’s use of executive decrees has allowed him to fast-track the new labour laws, avoiding the standard lengthy parliamentary procedure. The new rules will now come into force within days. However, to become law they must still go before parliament to be ratified this autumn – where they will easily pass because of the large majority of Macron’s political grouping, La République En Marche.
Macron meticulously controls his image and tightly plans his televised appearances – from the physical bravado of the early weeks of his presidency, when he was winched by helicopter on to a submarine, to the latest signings of decrees in his office.
This week he slammed the French media as “narcissistic” for focusing too closely on the workings of power rather than what he called the substance. He chided French journalists for being “too interested in communication and not enough in content”.
Macron first used the mass communications tactic of signing a law live on camera earlier this month when issuing new rules on ethics for public officials.