French parliament adopts controversial economic reforms

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivers a government statement on Greece at the National Assembly in Paris, France, July 8, 2015.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls delivers a government statement on Greece at the National Assembly in Paris, France, July 8, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - France’s parliament adopted a key package of economic reforms on Friday, after an agonising passage in which the government forced the measures through the house without a vote three times.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Thursday again resorted to a little-used constitutional procedure to push through the reforms – which are seen as vital to energise France’s sluggish economy – without lawmakers voting.

The Socialist government survived two confidence votes in less than six months over the move, but this time the opposition did not submit a censure motion, and the law is now considered formally adopted.

“Our economy is, as we know, hampered by blockages. We must remove them and tackle them methodically,” Valls said.

“It is perhaps even more useful today, at a time when the world is confronted with the Greek crisis but also the worrying situation in China. We must do everything for growth and activity.”

With growth estimated at a meagre one to 1.2 per cent this year and unemployment rates stuck at 10 per cent, the government was in a hurry to implement the law in a bid to revitalise the economy.

However, the proposals proved highly divisive from the beginning and a group of between 30 and 40 MPs on the left flank of the Socialist Party vowed to vote against the package, regarding it as too right-wing.

To avoid this, Valls first chose to force through the measures in February, doing the same when the law returned to the National Assembly in June.

Both times the government faced subsequent confidence votes that risked bringing it down.

The legislative package is the brainchild of Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron, a former banker, and the government sees it as vital to pep up the moribund economy, the second biggest in the euro zone.

The reforms also provoked anger on the street, sparking the rare sight of white-collar workers such as notaries and pharmacists marching through the streets demanding the bill be shelved.

Their professions are among those which are traditionally protected, but which the “Macron law” – made up of some 300 articles – aims to open up to competition.

One of the key planks of the package allows shops in certain tourist zones – notably the Champs Elysees in Paris – to open every Sunday of the year.

The package is also viewed as crucial in Brussels, where the EU has urged France to reform in order to bring down its ballooning budget deficit, which is far above European limits.

“We need this text for more jobs and growth,” stressed President Francois Hollande in June, vowing to have the laws on the statute book by French national day, July 14.