• Reform puts Macron’s reputation on the line

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    PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron’s government is set to unveil Thursday what is intended to be one of his signature economic reforms aimed at creating jobs and underlining his business-friendly credentials.

    Before his election in May, the 39-year-old centrist vowed repeatedly to take on the country’s powerful trade unions by overhauling highly protective and rigid labor regulations.

    On Thursday, in an announcement that is keenly awaited by both business groups and his leftwing opponents, his government will publish planned changes that are set to be approved by parliament in September.

    The measures are expected to curb the power of unions, limit severance pay and allow bosses to negotiate many working terms and conditions directly with their employees.

    In an interview published on the eve of the announcement, Macron said the overhaul had to be “ambitious and efficient enough to continue to bring down mass unemployment”.

    “We are the only major economy in the European Union that has not defeated mass unemployment for more than three decades,” he told Le Point magazine.

    Thursday’s unveiling is a crucial test for Macron’s domestic agenda as he seeks to encourage entrepreneurship in France, where the unemployment rate of 9.5 percent is almost double that of its large European rivals.

    He warned last week that the French “hated reforms” and tried to avoid them as long as possible.

    First major protests
    The move is set to bring the first demonstrations against his government, with the CGT trade union, France’s biggest, and the new political party France Unbowed set to mobilize their supporters on September 12 and 23.

    Reaction from other trade unions will be crucial as Macron seeks to avoid a major confrontation following often-violent demonstrations last year against labor changes made by his predecessor, Francois Hollande.

    During discussions with the unions which began in May, only the Communist-backed CGT has opposed the changes outright, with the more moderate CFDT and the hard-left FO so far signaling their willingness to negotiate.

    The reforms come at a time when Macron’s approval ratings are falling sharply, signaling the end of the honeymoon he enjoyed with the French public following his election.

    Recent polls showed that only around 40 percent of French voters are satisfied with his performance in office, with the fall attributed by analysts to a mix of communication problems and political missteps.

    The influential head of the employers’ confederation Medef, Pierre Gattaz, has urged Macron to be bold with the labor market changes, which have been drawn up in secrecy.

    “This labor law will be bellwether of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency and his desire to really reform,” Gattaz said Tuesday, echoing the views of many economists.

    AFP

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