French government bypasses parliament to force through jobs bill

AGORA moderator's picture

The French government is to ram through parliament a jobs bill designed to bring flexibility to France’s dysfunctional labour market using decree powers to sidestep fierce resistance from its own Socialist MPs.

Lacking parliamentary backing to pass the legislation, Prime Minister Manuel Valls was authorised by President François Hollande to force through the reform without a vote.

The drastic move underlines Mr Hollande’s political weakness and the tensions tearing apart the left a year before presidential elections.

The use of the decree power — which Mr Hollande used last year to pass measures to liberalise the economy — means the bill will automatically be adopted in the lower and upper houses unless the government loses a confidence vote.

The Républicains, the centre-right opposition, triggered such a confidence vote in parliament by the end of the week but the government is expected to win.

“This reform has to go through, the country must move forward,” Mr Valls told members of the National Assembly on Tuesday after an extraordinary cabinet meeting at the Elysée Palace.
The deeply unpopular French leader is battling opposition within his own camp after initiating a pro-business shift halfway through his term intended to revive the eurozone’s second-largest economy. In March, after months of political wrangling, Mr Hollande was forced to abandon a bill stripping convicted French-born terrorists of their citizenship.
The jobs reform simplifies labour rules, facilitates lay-offs in case of economic slowdowns and allows companies to strike deals with their employees on overtime. It has been praised by economists including Nobel prize winner Jean Tirole for bringing France closer to the model of Germany or the UK, which boast lower unemployment rates. But it has focused the anger of leftwing unions, student organisations and Socialist MPs who resent Mr Hollande’s lurch to the centre and fear they will lose their seats in next year’s parliamentary elections.
Following street protests in March, the government watered down the bill, taking out pro-business measures such as a ceiling on severance packages in case of wrongful dismissals. However, the retreat failed to calm unions, who have railed against the idea that companies could bypass them and sign deals on working hours with employee representatives. In the meantime, the country’s main business organisations have withdrawn their initial support for the bill.
Mr Hollande’s failure to win backing for such a far-reaching reform shows his uphill battle to unite his party and win over other leftwing voters to stand a chance of winning a second term.
He needs every single vote on the left to avoid the humiliation of being eliminated in the first round of the presidential elections in April next year. Recent opinion surveys show he would not qualify for the runoff, coming third after Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Front party, and the centre-right nominee.