Modernizing France: What Macron has in store next

Emmanuel Macron’s reforming zeal shows no sign of waning, with a raft of major reforms due to be presented to his cabinet over the next two months. The president clearly doesn't believe the old cliché that France is impossible to reform.

Modernizing France: What Macron has in store next
Photo: AFP

The 40-year-old came to power last year vowing to overhaul France and “pull the country into the 21st Century”. He has already pushed through measures that his predecessors at the Elysée promised but failed to deliver, including controversial labour reforms.

Buoyed by the fairly muted opposition to his reforms so far, the president is eager to push on and quicken the pace of change.

In the coming weeks and months he plans to push through a flurry of new bills (see below) some by decree rather than the usual democratic method of putting them through parliament.

The reforms – many of them already made public by the various ministers behind them – that his cabinet will be asked to examine over the next two months include laws on sexual harassment, housing, fraud, and the justice system.

But some say Macron risks uniting any opposition if he tries to push through too many unpopular reforms at once.

This week will see arguably the first real test for the centrist president, when on Thursday railway workers are due to join civil servants in a nationwide day of anti-reform protests.

Rail workers are furious about reforms to the SNCF, which include ending their special employment status for new recruits and have announced 36 days of rolling strikes throughout the spring.

Despite the planned strikes the government says it will not be cowed.

“A lot of people are saying we have to speed up the reform process, others are saying we need to slow down, but I don't worry about this. My only concern is the effects of these reforms on the French people,” said Macron's Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Sunday.

These are the main reforms on the cards between now and mid-May:

  • Sexual Harassment: A proposed law that would impose stiff fines for sexual harassment on the street or in public transport, extend the statute of limitations on sex crimes, and set the legal age of sexual consent at 15, meaning that sex with someone younger than that would be considered rape
  • Housing: The housing sector is set for major overhaul, including measures to simplify planning applications and homebuilding and restructuring the country’s large social housing organisations.
  • Legal system: France’s legal system is set for a major shakeup, with civil and criminal proceedings due to be made less bureaucratic and tests to be carried out on merging different court structures.
  • Unemployment benefits: The Labour Minister will present her plans to reform apprenticeships, professional training and the jobless benefits systems that are aimed at helping President Macron keep his promise to reduce unemployment by the end of his term in 2022.
  • Innovation: Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire will unveil his plans his bill which he has called PACTE – the French initials for Action Plan for Companies’ Growth and Transformation. He says it will give French firms the “framework and the means to innovate, transform themselves, grow and create jobs.”
  • Tax evasion: Fraud and tax evasion are to be targeted by another bill which includes plans to publicly “name and shame” those caught cheating the state out of revenue.