French prime minister to face baptism of fire in divided parliament

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French Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne will on Wednesday lay out the government’s policy priorities in her first speech in front of what promises to be a stormy parliament.

The 61-year-old will make the customary “general political declaration” to kick off the legislative session, which is being scrutinised closely given Borne’s weak position at the head of a minority government.

Centrist President Emmanuel Macron suffered a setback in parliamentary elections last month that saw his allies fall short of a majority by 39 seats.

He and Borne have since failed to tempt opposition parties into a coalition.

“The prime minister is working round the clock,” a cabinet minister told AFP this week. “She’s meeting everyone, she’s calling everyone. She’s really committed to listening, so we’ll manage.”

Without formal allies in the 577-seat national assembly, Borne has decided not to call a confidence vote on her policy speech — something almost all past prime ministers have done after their first appearances in the lower house.

Holding a vote was “too risky” for Borne, who would have been forced to step down if she lost, explained Bruno Cautres, a researcher at the Cevipof political studies unit at Sciences Po university in Paris. 

“She made the right decision, but she didn’t really have a choice.”  

But the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party, one of the big gainers in June’s parliamentary polls, announced that it would immediately call for a censure motion on Tuesday which would also bring Borne down if she lost. 

Analysts see it as highly unlikely to pass, with other opposition parties from the far-right National Rally and the rightwing Republicans ruling out backing LFI.

Exhausted? 

Borne’s immediate priorities are expected to be pushing through laws with wide support such as one to help low-income families cope with the cost-of-living crisis and another to release extra funding for the struggling health service.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin was hopeful the government could count on support from the right-wing Republicans party for bills to tackle immigration and crime, saying the cabinet’s “hand was outstretched”.

“If we put forward bills filled with common sense and with the spirit of compromise we have today, will this outstretched hand be taken by our adversaries?” he told BFM television.

“Nobody would understand” if opposition parties systematically blocked the government, he said.

Without a formal coalition, intense negotiations with opposition parties will be required each time the government wants to pass legislation.

Borne will also be constantly vulnerable to a censure motion called by opponents, making French politics unpredictable and unstable for the foreseeable future.

Only two months since he was re-elected to a historic second term, Macron has diminished capacity to push through reforms, with plans to raise the retirement age to 65 and reform welfare on ice for the moment.

The French media has speculated in recent days about his state of mind, with some reports suggesting he is yet to mentally rebound from the parliamentary setback.

Le Point, a right-wing weekly, said he had lost his “energy, his nerve and his lucidity”, while the left-wing l’Obs reported he was suffering from “physical exhaustion.” 

Rumours that Macron is burned out have frequently surfaced during his five years in office, fed by reports that he survives on a few hours’ sleep a night and often texts ministers in the early hours of the morning. 

A cabinet reshuffle announced on Tuesday did little to inject new momentum into his government as he failed to attract any new heavy-hitters.

It kept most senior figures in their jobs and brought in only junior new faces with little political experience. 

“Emmanuel Macron is no longer attractive,” senior rightwing Republicans figure Bruno Retailleau told the CNews channel on Tuesday.

(AFP) 

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