EU Forum

Social Europe

Macron's social agenda

16 May 2017 - 17:03
Bron: Sebastien Florent / Flickr

Reformist, pro-European leader Emmanuel Macron intends to reform France and Europe on economic and social issues; both are closely linked. Over the last four decades, France has failed to tackle massive unemployment, sluggish growth and rising public debt. Macron’s vision of social reforms is close to a Northern-style socioeconomic model. It could be summarised as follows: (i) unleashing entrepreneurship and mobility by tackling obstacles/statutes and by massive investment in people, (ii) social protection linked to the individual rather than professional status in order to secure job-to-job careers, and education/training for employment. Reforms are needed in France to restore credibility among our European partners and to reform Europe.

Macron’s vision of Europe is twofold: “a Europe that invests in the future” and “a Europe that protects”: “openness should be accompanied with the handling of industrial, economic, and social destruction, and should bring benefits to all in all countries.” Therefore, we will first have to look at the French envisioned social reforms in order to address potential effects on EU social issues.

In a world of profound change – digital, energy and environmental, demographic, and so on – Macron aims to put the French economy in motion to enable quality job creation and considers we are not “condemned to choose between massive unemployment and precarious work”. His reforms’ rationale is presented as ensuring professional mobility and a system which is fair to all.

Targeting the labour market

The first immediate reform will target the labour market. Macron aims to simplify labour laws and to further decentralize collective bargaining at sector and company level. On vocational training, he intends to fully include sectoral federations in the definition of the training curriculum, and to invest massively in retraining the less qualified, i.e. 1 million young people and 1 million unemployed with fewer qualifications.

Other reforms include putting the different pension regimes on a level playing field, including in the public sector. He also wants to create a universal right to unemployment benefits, expanding it to include artisans, business leaders (i.e. the self-employed) and even salaried workers who decide to resign. In turn, job-seekers will be required to accept the second appropriate job offer, and employers using short-term contracts will be subjected to financial penalties (a bonus/malus system). Macron also intends to switch taxes by financing social protection through wages (this only includes the part pertaining to workers, not the part pertaining to the employer).

Whatever the result of the parliamentary elections, resistance to Macron’s pro-business, labour market and state-overhaul reforms may arise in factories, the public sector and in the streets

All this would have the potential to further integrate the French labour market into the European labour markets and pave the ground for a flexible pan-European labour market. Yet, Macron’s presidency will be challenging. The culture of compromise and reform is not broadly shared in France. Macron still has to secure a legislative majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Whatever the result, resistance to his pro-business, labour market and state overhaul reforms may arise in factories, the public sector and the streets.

Reinvigorating the European project

The new president also intends to reinvigorate the European project, with his plan to provide the Eurozone with a budget, an economy and finance minister and a parliament. He agrees that we need to stimulate a renewed process of convergence across Europe, with well-functioning and fair labour markets and welfare systems. This ambition should take into account national cultures and the complexity of problems and should lead to an articulation of European orientations and negotiations between national social partners. While we need to put an end to unfair competition, this will be difficult, as demonstrated by the hitherto unsuccessful revision of the posted workers directive.

Macron supports the European Pillar of Social Rights, including national salaries and pensions as issues he would like to see addressed through European cooperation, while taking into account the different levels of development of European countries. He agrees that the Pillar should apply initially to the Eurozone, with other European countries being free to join.

The culture of compromise and reform is not broadly shared in France

As regards youth mobility, he targets a broader development of Erasmus+ (aiming for a 25% participation rate per age class/year), and supports the creation of a European status for apprenticeship in order to facilitate mobility.

Last but not least, Macron plans to organize in France with civil society and citizens in different regions a wide debate called “democratic conventions” to address the kind of Union we aspire. Social issues will be at the heart of these discussions. His aim is that these discussions will be organized in all European countries, starting late 2017. Macron is in favour of discussions between heads of state and government, the social partners, and other key players addressing the policy priorities set at European level and how the EU, the Member States and social partners at all levels can deliver on their shared economic and social priorities. He calls for partnerships and for individual players to take their share of responsibility at all levels to achieve tangible results that make a difference to people’s lives.

This opinion was published with the support of the Adessium Foundation.