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Macron loyalist sees reform success despite protests, popularity drop
September 13, 2017 / 12:41 PM / 10 days ago

Macron loyalist sees reform success despite protests, popularity drop

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a meeting on "Housing First" in Toulouse, southern France, September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Pavani/Pool

LONDON (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron’s labour reforms may not yield economic benefits for 12 to 18 months but neither that nor his falling popularity will slow his agenda for transforming France, a minister close to Macron said on Wednesday.

Benjamin Griveaux, a junior economy minister, said he had heard a lot of scepticism about the government’s ability to deliver on its programme to revitalise France, but he was confident Macron would succeed where others had failed.

The reforms to France’s complex employment laws, which many businesses say have deterred investment and job creation, were met with demonstrations on Tuesday, but participation was lower than during attempted reforms under previous governments.

“The most important thing is (for the reforms) to have effects on our unemployment rate and positive consequences. This needed to be implemented fast after the election,” Griveaux told reporters on Wednesday during a visit to London.

“Probably the positive effects of that will be seen in maybe 12 to 18 months, not before. But we are not here to adjust the model, we are here to transform it radically.”

Griveaux is one of Macron’s inner circle who were involved in setting up En Marche (On The Move), the new political movement that delivered victory in May’s presidential election.

Asked whether the 39-year-old Macron would have as profound an impact on France as free marketeer Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did on Britain in the 1980s, Griveaux said Thatcher was not the model.

“She did only freedom, not protection,” he said. “Our platform is more balanced.”

Griveaux said a sharp fall in Macron’s popularity since the election would not slow the reform agenda, and that the president was determined to introduce the thorniest and most substantive reforms early on in his five-year term.

“If you run a country by watching your popularity rating every day, you don’t do much,” said Griveaux.

He said the government had certain assets that previous administrations which had tried structural reforms in France, only to be ground down by strikes and protests, did not.

He mentioned the presence in the government of ministers with substantial private sector experience, singling out Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud, a former head of human resources at major dairy products maker Danone.

Griveaux said that during negotiations ahead of the labour reforms, unions had found it useful to discuss issues with Penicaud and others who had worked in the real economy rather than those who had spent most of their careers in politics.

He said that was one of the reasons why only one of the three big unions, the hard-left CGT, had called for strikes and demonstrations on Tuesday.

Griveaux also said that some past administrations including that of Socialist President Francois Hollande, under whom Macron served as economy minister, had left it too late in their terms to attempt difficult reforms and had not allowed enough time for negotiations with unions ahead of introducing their bills.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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