Macron defends French economic reforms in Strasbourg

Emmanuel Macron found support for his economic reform bill on the right. [James Russel/Flickr]

The French minister of the economy met MEPs in Strasbourg this week to defend his economic reform bill. He used the opportunity to call on the European Commission to maximise the Juncker Plan’s support for digital projects. EURACTIV France reports.

Emmanuel Macron undertook his first diplomatic mission to French MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday (28 April). And it was not an easy one for the economy minister, who came under heavier criticism from members of his own Socialist Party, than from the opposition.

“I think it is important that France explains the economic reforms, because there is a lot misunderstanding,” the minister said.

>> Read: Commission hails French economic bill as ‘a step in the right direction’

Socialist Party split

“There are deep disagreements between part of the French Socialist delegation and Emmanuel Macron over the economic line he is taking in France,” said Emmanuel Maurel, a French Socialist MEP.

The divide separating Macron from the left wing of his party appears less pronounced on European issues. “We agree on many points of European policy, on subjects like the process of social convergence, the fight against tax optimisation and the implementation of the Financial Transaction Tax,” Emmanuel Maurel added.

“At least he is a minister assuming responsibility for the disagreements and coming to discuss them with the socialist delegation. He deserves credit for that.”

Article 49-3

Mannuel Valls’s government had to invoke article 49-3 of the French constitution to force the first round of Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms through parliament. This left its mark on the parliament’s slim Socialist majority.

“We have the institutional means to keep advancing,” Emmanuel Macron told the press, meaning he would not rule out making further use of article 49-3. This allows the government to pass a bill by shackling it to a vote of no confidence: if the bill does not pass, the government falls.

>> Read: French attempt to ‘liberate’ the economy ends up adding new regulation

“This is the 84th time that article 49-3 has been used in the fifth republic. I’m afraid to tell you that there will most likely be an 85th and an 86th time. That is how our institutional system works,” the minister said.

Entente cordiale

Emmanuel Macron may have struggled to convince his own party of the necessity of his economic reform package, but he was received with surprising warmth by the rightist delegations in the European Parliament.

During his visit to Strasbourg, Emmanuel Macron met the leaders of the Parliament’s main political groups, including Guy Verofstadt, the head of the Liberal group, Manfred Weber, the head of the European People’s Party and Gianni Pittella, president of the Socialists and Democrats, as well as the influential members of the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, including the French MEP Alain Lamassoure.

“He is bright and likeable, and his assessment of France’s situation is broadly shared,” said Alain Lamassoure, the head of France’s right wing UMP delegation. “But if his assessment is spotless, the proposed solutions lack ambition!” he added.

Verhofstadt also indicated a certain overlap of opinion with the French minister on Twitter, saying he “agrees on the need for structural reforms and for real economic governance at a European level”. Gianni Pittella, President of Macron’s own European political family, has yet to utter his support.

French-German digital partnership

If his exchanges with his compatriots in the European Parliament were somewhat heated, Emmanuel Macron was able to fall back on the support of his German counterpart, Sigmar Gabriel, to strengthen his message.

The two ministers addressed a joint letter on European digital market reform to Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip, detailing the two countries’ expectations for the digitisation of the European economy.

>> Read the letter here

The Commission will unveil its strategy on 6 May.

“The German and the French Governments have made proposals, which we hope the European Commission will integrate into an ambitious DSM Strategy,” the ministers wrote.

Among the joint demands laid out in the letter, the French and German ministers focussed on the need to develop suitable European regulatory frameworks for “essential platforms” (like Google) and to ensure the protection of personal data.

“When we have global actors that collect and use information, we should equip ourselves with the means to regulate the commercial use of this information and to protect data at a European level. This means creating the legal entities and the technical functions that will make this possible,” the French minister said.

>> Read: Oettinger calls for ‘Europeanisation’ of digital policy

This is in line with the Commission’s recent decision to open antitrust proceedings against Google. Macron said “I think Commissioner Vestager has made a very brave decision, which has begun raising the question of how best to regulate Google, in terms of competition.”

Enlisting the Juncker Plan

The two ministers also share the hope that several billions of euros from the Juncker Plan will be dedicated to risk-capital to help the growth of innovative SMEs. “We want to use part of the Juncker Plan to establish a risk-capital fund to finance European start-ups,” the French economy minister said.

Emmanuel Macron was pleased that his proposals had been well received by the European Investment Bank President Werner Hoyer, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the European Parliament President Martin Schultz.

The aim of Emmanuel Macron's bill is to "unlock the French economy". Manuel Valls' government describes its priorities in the following terms:

  • To remove barriers to work: Opening certain sectors and professions, such as coach transport, the regulated professions, or even housing and commercial urbanisation.

  • To invest: Renewing the state shareholder intervention system, better managing public service delegations and public-private partnerships, and reforming employee shareholdings.

  • To work: Review the industrial tribunal system and make it easier to work on Sundays.

The French Parliament's vote on the bill provoked turmoil among the Socialist majority, many of whom have severely criticised the bill, which was welcomed so warmly by Brussels.

  • 6 May: presentation of the European Commission's strategy for a digital single market

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