Domestic difficulties are stacking up for Emmanuel Macron as his second presidential term begins in earnest this week after his centrists lost their absolute majority in parliament.
The newly elected president now faces uncertainty over how to strike alliances in order to push through key legislation this summer.
First is the cost of living crisis, as rampant inflation erodes wages. Macron has promised new handouts, pension rises and tax breaks, which he must now put before parliament.
Ministers argue that France has already been the most generous in Europe in helping households cope, including by capping gas and power price increases, which allowed it to cushion the inflation spike better than its neighbours. During the parliamentary election campaign, however, voters repeatedly told candidates more must be done to help them make ends meet.
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The government is under pressure to outline its plans for food vouchers, and to spell out measures that would boost long-stagnant wages in the public sector. Pensions will rise by an exceptional 4 per cent in July, and a fuel price rebate worth 18 cents a litre will be extended throughout August. But the rebate is unlikely to last, and the government must explain whether it will be replaced by a measure targeting people who depend on their cars to get to work.
France is also facing a hospital crisis. Scores of emergency departments are having to partially close or restrict their hours because of a major shortage of medical staff and resources. There have been strikes in hospitals, protests by medical staff, petitions and picket lines in recent weeks as doctors warned that the situation was dangerous for public health. Macron’s prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, said it was a government “emergency” to put in place special measures for the summer and hold a wider longer-term review of the health system. The far-right Marine Le Pen has said the hospital system is collapsing.
The government has also promised an urgent environment law in order to develop renewables, after the left accused Macron of not moving fast enough to address the climate crisis.
The president’s controversial plans to raise the retirement age are likely to be pushed back until after the summer as he seeks to avoid a repeat of the protests against his last attempt at pension change. Rail and other transport workers opposed his planned pensions overhaul in 2019 with the longest strike since the wildcat stoppages of May 1968.
There will be a very different, potentially more heated parliamentary atmosphere to Macron’s first term, after a strong showing from the left and a surge from the far right.
When Macron was first elected president in 2017, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s hard-left France Unbowed party had only 17 members of parliament. But the small group had a very vocal presence, tabling amendments to laws and dominating media coverage with gestures such as bringing packets of pasta, tomato sauce and bread into the National Assembly to illustrate the impact of government cuts to housing benefits.
This time a new left alliance is the biggest opposition force in parliament, with a vastly increased capacity to make itself heard. — Guardian