PARIS – Promising to heal France’s “doubts and divisions”, President Emmanuel Macron is expected to turn quickly to tackle one of the key issues that spurred over 40 percent of voters to cast a vote for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen: an erosion in purchasing power and standard of living that fueled anger during his first period.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire promised in an interview on Europe 1 on Monday that Mr Macron’s second term would be different. “We can not forget the message they sent. We need to change the way we govern,” he said.
The euro rose shortly after Mr Macron’s victory on Monday, which was largely expected in the financial markets and met with relief by European leaders who welcomed political continuity in one of Europe’s most powerful countries. Ms. Le Pen, who planned to withdraw from European integration, was widely seen as a danger to EU unity.
One of Mr. Macron’s first priorities will be a “purchasing power package”, which he outlined during the campaign. It includes the penetration of measures before the summer to increase pensions, raise social subsidies for households pressured by galloping inflation, and offer tax breaks to encourage companies to provide large cost-of-living bonuses.
Mr. Le Maire added that ceilings on energy prices, which Mr. Macron set to fight soaring energy bills from Russia’s war in Ukraine, would be maintained until the end of the year. That was an apparent concession to a proposal by Mrs Le Pen to lower VAT on energy and gas to 5.5 per cent from 20 per cent.
“There’s a lot to do with inflation, on the economy,” Mr Le Maire said.
Although Mr Macron led economic growth and a sharp fall in unemployment, he was unable to ease growing inequality. If he wins a parliamentary majority in the parliamentary elections in June, he would have more freedom to move forward with his economic program.
French unions welcomed Mr Macron’s victory, but said he needed to bridge France’s divide. They urged him to focus on social and economic issues that led people to vote for Mrs Le Pen – even as they called for nationwide demonstrations on 1 May to demand that Mr Macron push for wage and pension increases , delay plans to raise the retirement age and further emphasize environmental policy.
“The worst was avoided today. But almost 42 percent of the votes of the far right mean that nothing can and should be as before,” Laurent Berger, general secretary of the CFDT, one of France’s leading unions, wrote on Twitter Sunday.
Solidaires, another major trade union, warned that the strength of the far right seemed to be growing, in part due to “antisocial policies” from French governments. Despite Mr Macron’s victory, the union said he “had no popular legitimacy to apply antisocial reforms”, in particular a plan to raise the retirement age to 64 or 65 to fund France’s national pension system (the current retirement age is 62).
Business lobbyists were enthusiastic about Mr Macron’s victory, after warning that Mrs Le Pen’s ideas of turning France away from Europe would do incalculable damage to the country and its economy. But they recognized that social unrest could flare up again.
Mr. Macron’s first term was marked by mass demonstrations against his proposal to change the pension system, as well as the Yellow Vests movement, which brought millions of enchanted workers out in protest against being left behind in the French economy.
“The president has Hercules’ work ahead of him, believing that the world has never been as unstable as we know it,” said François Asselin, chairman of an industry group representing small and medium-sized enterprises. “The question will be how to get as many people as possible to accept the reforms the country needs without blockages, because we need a country that works.”