Emmanuel Macron, a young former banker, is pushing through reforms of the French economy. But how far will Hollande let him go?by Christine Ockrent / April 23, 2015 / Leave a comment
Emmanuel Macron, a 37-year-old former investment banker, is a relative newcomer to French politics. He was parachuted into ministerial office even though he has never contested an election. Despite that, eight months after his appointment as France’s Minister of Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs, he has gained the approval of voters dissatisfied with traditional politics and tired of empty promises.
Macron has become the face of “reform” in France—a vague term which most people claim to approve of as long as change doesn’t affect their own vested interests. He stands on a platform described in the French political vernacular as “social-liberal.” Which is to say that he is much more liberal than many members of the conservative UMP (Nicolas Sarkozy’s party), who daren’t utter the word, and not social (that is, left-wing) enough for the dyed-in-the wool Socialist hardcore. In just a few months, Macron has shown himself to be one of the few public figures willing to speak out about the real state of the country without automatically putting the blame on his political opponents.
He has rapidly come to embody attempts by the Hollande government to liberalise the French economy and, in particular, to reform the labour market, the rigidities of which are among the most significant brakes on the country’s competitiveness. Macron, appointed by the market-friendly Prime Minister Manuel Valls, favours the introduction of Scandinavian or German-style “flexi-security” agreements between workers and employers, in which companies are given greater discretion to cut hours and renegotiate salaries during an economic downturn, while jobs are protected. (In the recession that followed the global financial crisis of 2008, 1.5m jobs in Germany were made subject to such agreements; in France, by contrast, the figure was just 245,000.)
France has been here before, of course. Hollande is not the first president to attempt to tackle the labour market regulations and social protections that many believe have held the French economy back. Jacques Chirac and his prime minister Alain Juppé tried it in the mid-1990s, and were beaten by a wave…