The French President’s Labor Reforms are Necessary, but Outpacing Employment Safeguards
In late March 2018, French rail workers went on a nationwide strike, causing massive delays in the country’s subway systems. Hordes of Parisian commuters could be seen exiting over-crowded cars as they returned from work hours late. And yet, this is just one of many protests in the past few months from civil servants and union members alike in France. Since passing labor reforms in August 2017, the romanticized popularity of President Emmanuel Macron has been thrown for a loop. Although he was elected by a wide margin, thousands have opposed the lack of job-for-life guarantees and meager retirement benefit plans of his more flexible labor laws. Yet this uptick in protests does not necessarily mean that reforms have been unsuccessful. On the contrary, his efforts to overhaul the indecipherably complex French labor code are overdue, and already improving growth. Employee and benefit cuts are expected to immediately accompany these newest reforms and improve national productivity, profit, and innovation. However, the National Assembly must also improve unemployment programs to ensure fair firing practices and improve long-term economic stability.
A notoriously thick red book symbolic of France’s historical socialist republic, the Code du Travail is lauded by unions but loathed by employers. France’s largest unions see the 3,324 page code as key to protecting employees from exploitation since 1910. Yet employers are often paralyzed by the Code’s dirigisme (regulatory interventionism), which demands a costly process to hire and fire employees. Modern companies see these conditions as partly responsible for the Euro’s moderate performance, France’s stagnant GDP, and its consistently high 10% unemployment rate. Youth unemployment rates are even higher, long standing near 25%. Macron took on labor reform last August as a way of revitalizing the French economy, successfully passing a bill that overhauls exceedingly rigid restrictions. …
But while business is booming – and desperately needs to – Macron has yet to uphold the second part of the overhaul bargain.
At least three are dead and 30 injured after a truck rammed through a crowd in the North-Rhine Westphalia town of Münster, Germany on Saturday. The incident took place at Grosser Kiepenkerl, a popular restaurant near the center of the city’s old town. According to eyewitnesses and local authorities, the driver, a German citizen, ran full speed over a sidewalk where a crowd of diners was eating before shooting himself dead. Police are not considering other suspects at this time, and have closed off the site while emergency services work.
Senior security officials said it was too early to call the crash an act of terrorism, but were taking response measures as if it were. They remarked the tragedy is particularly unfortunate, as the regional police union has so far been able to foil and prevent other planned attacks in the area. Germany has been on high alert for two years due to a string of terrorist activity across Europe. The country’s last such incident was in December 2016, when a rejected Tunisian asylum seeker drove into a Berlin Christmas market.
Former Catalan President Carles Puigdemont has been detained by German police acting on a European arrest warrant for his return to Spain. The ex-leader is wanted for sedition and rebellion after his separatist region of Catalonia unilaterally declared independence in October following what Madrid calls an illegal referendum. While Puigdemont has been living in Brussels in self-imposed exile since then, the formal warrant for his arrest was only drawn up in December and just reissued Friday. It comes along with those of 25 other Catalan leaders, sparking massive protests in Barcelona.
Puigdemont was in Helsinki, Finland at the time it was announced, but evaded authorities by slipping out of the country early. The activist was attempting to return to Belgium Sunday when he was caught crossing the Danish border into northern Germany. His warrant is one of many legal setbacks to the independence movement, which has lost momentum in recent months due to the arrests of many top activists. It has the potential to permanently extradite Puigdemont and kill the movement, which has been hoping for but has yet to receive international backing from his exile.
A visit by Steve Bannon. A vote to change the party name. These were just some of the elements at the far-right National Front’s conference in Lille, France this past weekend. The conference comes amidst substantive presidential and legislative losses for the party as well as accusations that it has not done enough to distance itself from its Nazi origins. In response, party leader Marine Le Pen has noted the need for rebranding, hoping the efforts will change public attitudes, revive member support, and make it easier to form political alliances.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Saturday his government submitted a bill that would overhaul the Constitution to consolidate executive powers under the office of the President, a controversial move many are calling a referendum on Erdogan’s leadership itself. The bill includes provisions allowing the president to run his own cabinet and widely govern by decree. Current polls and parliamentary makeup suggest the AKP and opposition MHP have enough seats to pass the law, although wavering party loyalty could defeat the initiative.
This Sunday, Austrians headed to the polls to finally decide the presidency after the far-right Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) Norbert Hofer objected to initial voting procedures. Mr. Hofer lost by 31,000 votes in a narrow 50/50 margin last May, until Austria’s highest court backed the party and allowed for a delayed new vote. He again faced 72-year-old former economics professor and Green Party candidate Alexander Van der Bellen.
On Sunday, French citizens headed to the polls to select the new Republican Presidential Candidate in a primary runoff, the winner of which is set to take on far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen in April. After Francois Fillon won last week’s primary, barring former President Nicolas Sarkozy from the race, polls show he is set to win again. His socially conservative platform, including anti-abortion, anti gay marriage, and restrictive immigration proposals, stand in contrast to centrist opponent Alain Juppe, who denies the need for such “brutal” laws.
Reformist Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has called a Constitutional Referendum scheduled for Dec 4, set to expedite the notoriously slow and gridlocked Italian legislative process. Renzi affirms the reforms will expedite change and create a more active government better prepared to tackle Italy’s main problems: economic stagnation, youth unemployment, widespread corruption, and the migrant crisis. Critics suspect the referendum will increase the powers of the Prime Minister, as well as limit the influence of Italian voters. However, it is not the referendum itself, but the man who proposed it, that Italians are likely to vote on.
Last Sunday, Spain’s Socialist leaders reversed their 10 month long efforts to block conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s reelection when they informed their representatives to abstain from a Parliamentary vote considering his candidacy. These abstentions deprive the larger opposition of having enough votes to impede his reelection. If the vote failed to support Rajoy, a third, December election would have been called to elect an entirely new government, meaning a new Prime Minister and all new members of parliament. Socialist leaders stated the fear of losing more seats primarily motivated their surrender.
Last week, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for a consultation on a second Scottish independence referendum bill. The consultation marks the first step in the long process of allowing the referendum to go to a vote. Although a similar referendum for Scottish independence was rejected by a 5% margin in September of 2014, the country has experienced renewed calls for a revote in response to the Brexit decision last June.