The new French president and EU social issues


Confrontations Europe’s CEO

This article was written at the request of Clingendael, leading Dutch think tank.

The new French president and EU social issues


Reformist, pro-European leader Emmanuel Macron intends to reform France and Europe, on economic and social issues; both are closely linked. Over the last four decades, France has failed to tackle massive unemployment, sluggish growth and rising public debt. Macron’s vision of social reforms is close to Northern-style countries. It might be summed up: (i) unleashed entrepreneurship and mobility by tackling obstacles/statutes and massive investment in people, (ii) social protection linked with the person rather than status to secure professional careers from job to job, and education/training to employment. Reforms are needed in France to restore credibility among our European partners and to reform Europe. His vision of Europe is twofold: “a Europe that invest in the future” and “a Europe that protects”: “openness should be accompanied with the handling of industrial, economic, and social destruction, and should bring benefits to all in all countries”. Therefore, we will first have to look at French envisioned social reforms in order to address potential effects on EU social issues.

In a world of profound change (digital, energy and environment, demography,…), Macron aims to put the French economy in movement to enable quality job creation and considers we are not “condemned to choose between massive unemployment and precarious work”. His reforms’ rationale is presented as ensuring professional mobility and a system fair to all. The first immediate reform will target the labour market. He aims to simplify labour laws and further decentralize collective bargaining at sector and company level. On vocational training, he intends to fully include sectoral federations in the definition of the training curriculum, and to invest massively to retrain the less qualified (1 million young people and 1 million unemployed with fewer qualifications).  Other reforms include putting the different pension regimes on a level playing field, including in the public sector. He also wants to create a universal right to unemployment benefit, expanding it to include artisans, business leaders… and even salaried workers who decide to resign. In turn, job-seekers will be required to accept the second appropriate job offer, and employers using short-term contracts a bonus/malus system. He also intends to switch to taxes for financing social protection relying on wages (this only includes the part pertaining to workers, not the part pertaining to the employer).

This would have the potential to further increase the integration of European labour markets and pave the ground for a paneuropean transitional labour market. Yet, Macron’s presidency will be challenging. The culture of compromise and reform is not broadly shared in France. He still has to secure a legislative majority. Whatever the result, resistance to his pro-business, labour market and state overhaul reforms may arise in factories, the public sector and the streets. The new president also intends to reinvigorate the European project, with a budget for the Eurozone, an economy and finance minister for the Eurozone and a Eurozone parliament. He agrees that we need to stimulate a renewed process of convergence across Europe, with well-functioning and fair labour markets and welfare systems. This ambition should take into account national cultures and the complexity of problems and should lead to an articulation of European orientations and negotiation between national social partners. While we need to put an end to unfair competition, this will be difficult, as demonstrated by the posted workers.

He supports the European Pillar of Social Rights, including national salaries as issues he would like to see addressed through European cooperation, while taking into account the different levels of development of European countries. He agrees that the Pillar should apply initially to the Eurozone, with other European countries being free to join.

As regards youth mobility, he targets a broader development of Erasmus + (25% of an age class/year), and supports the creation of a European status for apprenticeship in order to facilitate mobility.

Last but not least, he plans to organize in France a wide debate called “democratic conventions” with civil society and citizens in different regions to address the kind of Union we aspire and social issues will be at the heart. He would like these to be organized in all countries starting late 2017. He is in favour of discussions of heads of state and government, the social partners, and other key players to discuss the policy priorities set at European level and how the EU, the Member states and social partners at all levels can deliver on their shared economic and social priorities. He calls for partnerships and for individual players to take their share of responsibility at all levels to achieve tangible results that make a difference to people’s lives.

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