What about the interview?
A couple of months ago – 2 days after his Party’s sweeping victory in the Legislative Elections – President Macron met journalists from 8 European newspapers*. That meeting was, and remains, his sole interview since becoming President. The Guardian‘s over-self-aggrandised ‘Exclusive‘ (the paper was, after all, but one of EIGHT) headlined the most interesting Presidential comment from a Brit perspective: “Pragmatism will determine our new relationship” with post-Brexit Britain.
But for those elsewhere in Europe another subject was seen as much more significant. France’s Le Figaro, Belgium’s Le Soir and Switzerland’s Le Temps all identically led with the President’s thunderous ‘Europe is not a supermarket’. [My spoken German, Polish and Spanish is not up to a similar analysis for other papers … plus life’s far too short.]
The President was talking about the relationship between the ‘western’ European EU countries and those from the centre/east. Saying that Europe was a ‘common destiny’ he warned against certain countries/leaders ‘abandoning principles, turning their backs on Europe, having a cynical approach to the European Union that only served as dispensing credit without respecting its values’.
And for any who hadn’t quite got the message, President Macron spelt out the detail. ‘What did Brexit play on?’ he asked. His answer: ‘On workers from eastern Europe who came to take British jobs. The defenders of the European Union lost because the British lower middle classes said: ‘Stop!’ He went on: ‘The posted worker** system leads to ridiculous situations. Do you think I can explain to the French middle classes that companies are closing in France and going to Poland because it’s cheaper, while in France construction companies are hiring Polish workers because they’re cheaper?’
This in-yer-face warning didn’t go down terribly well with some. The following day, Polish PM Szydlo accused Macron of ‘antipathy’ towards the countries of central Europe. She continued: ‘It’s good to speak facts and not to make remarks based on stereotypes’.
[* It may be of more than passing interest to highlight the newspapers chosen for this ‘exclusive’ interview. Seven of the eight were all centrist or (centre-)leftist. France’s chosen newspaper, however, was not Le Monde, the ‘equivalent’ of most others. Rather it was right-leaning, very-conservative-supporting Le Figaro. What was that slap on the French centre-left’s wrist all about? Has Le Monde now been forgiven some lèse-majesté?
** A “posted worker” is an employee sent on a temporary basis by an employer to perform a service in another EU Member State. Hence a service provider may win a contract in another EU country and send employees to perform the contract. Posted workers remain in the host EU country temporarily. Importantly, the posted worker continues their pre-existing contract of employment, with employer and employee both still paying the social charges of their home country, not the temporary host country.]
What about the Polish plumber?
Today, President Macron began his first tour of (Greater) Central Europe. Starting in Salzburg, meeting the Austrian Chancellor and the Czech and Slovak PMs (representing half of the Visegrad Group***, aka V4) , he then goes on to Romania and Bulgaria. Notable by their absence on this trip are visits to ultra-conservative Hungary and Poland (the other half of V4): each fiercely proud of their illiberal increasingly-non-democracies and, therefore, both possibly considered beyond the pale today.
A subject the President most wanted to address whilst in central Europe was the question of the EU’s Posted Worker Directive. This will be formally up for EU ‘discussion’ this autumn. However, a compromise may be tricky to produce since 10 central/eastern European countries (plus Denmark) stated formal opposition last year to any revision to that Directive. France, above all, is pushing to limit any posting to one year and to ratchet up the pan-EU fight against fraudulent employment. Speaking today in Vienna, the President considerably firmed up his public opposition to the Directive by saying that ‘in its essence and in the way it operates … the Directive is a betrayal of the European spirit’.
[***The Visegrad Group: the political alliance/talking shop/regional co-operation (begun 1991 when Czechoslovakia was still one country, hence previously the Visegrad Triangle). V4 may now have gone past Peak Illiberalism as Slovak PM, Fico (usually described as a left-wing populist) announced last week that Slovakia’s future was ‘at the heart of the European Union, with France and Germany’]
Light relief (in a manner of speaking). During some of the earlier (excessive) excitement about The Polish Plumber, the Polish Tourist Office decided to get in on the act.
The slogan might have been translated: I’m staying in Poland. Come one, come all.
What about the Loi de Travail?
The unveiling of the detail of the Labour Law is getting tantalisingly close.
Texts of the Executive Orders should be revealed on 31 August following a (last?) round of consultations/decisions on thorny issues this week between Labour Minister, Pénicaud, and employers’/trades unions’ representatives (that makes some 70 meetings in all by now). The Law’s said to square the industrial relations circle by promoting ‘social dialogue’ as close to the workplace as possible, giving employers ‘more freedom’ and ‘improving workers’ protection’.
We’ve already heard about the CGT’s Day of Action against the Law on 12 September; while Mélenchon’s France Unbowed has promised demonstrations on 23 September. A Parliamentary initiative was also jointly taken by multiple varieties of the Old and New Left. 60+ of the Left’s Deputies made rare common cause for the sole purposes of being able to submit a formal demand to the Constitutional Council. The Council is asked (no less) to declare unconstitutional the Law allowing the Government to legislate by Executive Order. The Council will pronounce during the week of 4 September.
If (i) the Executive Orders are not struck down by the Council and (ii) The Streets have not been filled to bursting with Protest(ers), the Labour Laws will be effective in October.
Unless that is the President listens to advice from his predecessor. Yesterday, President Hollande emerged from a lengthy self-imposed silence. Whilst at a French film festival, he suddenly decided to advise against allowing too much flexibility in the work marketplace.
Pointless Pub Quiz Question of the Week: What’s M1717?
Former Socialist politician and Presidential candidate, Hamon, wanted to ‘reinvent’ the Left following his personal Presidential debacle. Refaire la Gauche ! [note inevitably necessary exclamation mark] was the slogan for his Relaunch/Reinvention Rally. And said Rally for his Mouvement du 1er juillet (hence M1717 – geddit?) was duly organised.
Their analysis is that
- President Macron will slide rightwards taking in centrists and Républicains alike
- Mélenchon’s Unbowed France has progressed as far as it can, and thus …
- with one bound, a space has been opened up on ‘the Left’.
M1717 claims 10,000 members. But, as with both Mélenchon’s Unbowed France and Macron’s En Marche, ‘membership’ is free and happens after a few Internet clicks.
(Centre-right voters relishing the Left’s evident discomfiture will remember that The Conventional Right is in an equal ‘state of chassis’.)
Does democracy have a price?
It’s transparency time: time for the Presidential Election financial accounts to be presented and ultimately approved.
We learnt that President Macron spent €16.7 million on his campaign. While Socialist Hamon burnt €15.1 million on his: thus spending no less than €6.58 for every one of those people who actually voted for him.
Where did the money come from? There’s a limit on donations of €4,600 per person. Candidate Macron gathered €1 million in donations. Not bad. But put well into the shade by the €3 million that Mélenchon garnered.
What about the workers?
A 60 year old, gentler humour … but not wholly irrelevant today: