BY Richard Summerfield
Facing continued stagnation in the national economy, French prime minister Manuel Valls was forced to take decisive action last week. Utilising emergency constitutional powers, he pushed through an omnibus bill which will implement a number of labour market reforms. Though the prime minister felt that his bill would likely pass a parliamentary vote, he was unwilling to leave it to chance.
The reform bill is made up various measures which appear quite inconsequential in isolation, but their sum, the government hopes, will reinvigorate the national economy. The bill proposes to extend shopping hours on a Sunday, sell between €5bn and €10bn of state shareholdings, liberalise the country’s inter-city coach industry, and deregulate a number of professions. Should the reforms have their intended purpose, they could prove vital for the economy, which is entering its third year of stagnation and near zero growth.
However, implementation of the so-called ‘Loi Macron’ bill (named for French economy minister Emmanuel Macron) by emergency decree required the government to pass a vote of no confidence. The government succeeded by just 55 votes. The Macron bill has encountered opposition from both the left and right wings of the French political spectrum. A number of government ministers, suggesting the reforms were too pro-business, had announced they would move to block the bill if it went to a vote. Despite some political reluctance, recent polls point to strong public support for the reforms.
The decision to bypass regular parliamentary procedure has served to further emphasise the commitment of the Valls/Hollande government to modernisation. "There was probably a majority for this bill but it was not sure so I decided to take no chances - I couldn't risk seeing a plan so crucial to our economy be rejected," said Mr Valls. "Nothing will make us give up, nothing will make us retreat - the national interest of the French people requires it."