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France Press review Emmanuel Macron Labour Education

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French press review 1 September 2017


The government’s recently unveiled labour reform is the main talking point in this morning’s newspapers, as they pick their side in the debate. France’s problem with university selection is another contentious subject.

It’s back to gritty politics this morning, as French newspapers react to the government’s labour reforms, which were unveiled yesterday.

The bill would be the most significant in the last 30 years, as it chips away at trade unions’ monopoly over negotiations within companies.

The law aims to give employers more say on issues of working hours and pay, based on a simplified negotiation process with employees, especially in small companies without union representatives.

Another key measure is a redefinition of “redundancy on economic grounds”, which a company would now be able to invoke based on their national performance, rather than their global profits only.

The bill is a central pillar of Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.

He says the changes will encourage companies to employ people by making it easier for them to adapt to “market conditions”, which can mean firing people.

Right unlikely to oppose

Le Figaro is rather triumphant.

“His hand hasn’t shaken!” it says. “Macron promised a vast reform of the Labour Code and he’s off to a good start.”

The conservative paper says that most of the measures aren’t spectacular but they are necessary to pull France out if the mass unemployment it has been stuck in.

The paper is rather confident Macron will succeed, too.

“Where can the danger come from?” it asks. “The left is dying, and has little weight.”

The right would not be well placed to oppose a reform that it has always wanted to carry out itself, without ever daring to do so.

There’s always Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his hard-left France Unbowed party.

He’ll be trying to stir up street protests alongside leftist unions.

But most French people are generally in favour of the reform, according to Le Figaro.

Progress or a step back?

Libération has quite a different take.

The left-wing paper sees the bill as one big gift to company owners.

“To be able to renegotiate salaries and working hours without any interference by the unions […] Does anyone really believe that such measures are progressive?” Libération asks.

According to Libération, it’s quite the opposite.

It says that the bill will just drag France 30 years back in time.

In some areas more flexibility is necessary, it concedes, but in others workers should be given more protection, following a logic of give and take.

But all of that is missing from the law, according to Libération.

The importance of being informed

Le Monde provides a detailed and factual explanation of the reform package, while its editorial, printed as the details of the reform were being announced, the paper chose to tackle Donald Trump’s response the deadly Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

However, a cartoon by Plantu might give some explanation of the paper’s neutral stance.

On one side it shows France’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in a boxing ring, getting ready to take on a crowd of protesters.

In the corner, between the two, some poor fellow is sat reading about the new legislation in Le Monde itself.

“Give me a second,” he says, “I’m reading.”

In other words, it might be a good idea to be well informed before joining in the political dogfight.

Dead souls in French universities

There’s more contentious politics in the French newspapers this morning, if you can hack it.

Le Figaro and Le Monde both discuss another possible reform which could create massive protests, this time among French students, who aren't known for being soft on governments.

Macron wants to do away with the current enrolment system, in which students are selected by a random draw when there are not enough places on certain courses.

One of the reasons the government has put forward is the staggering 60 percent failure rate in the first year.

Le Figaro says the system is unfair to good students, who are more successful better at the Baccalauréat, and that it's obvious that some form of selection should be introduced.

Le Monde has a more nuanced approach, saying that the 60 percent failure rate is misleading, since it takes into account many students who are officially enrolled but do not actually go to lessons.

Sometimes they only attend exams in order to carry on receiving a government grant, as well as student health insurance.

Other students enrol in a university course as a back-up plan, as they prepare for other more useful entrance exams.

Le Monde quotes one specialist as saying that the government is using these figures to dramatise the situation and avoid addressing the real issues, funding and choice of courses.