Year of hurdles in store for French President Emmanuel Macron

Year of hurdles in store for French President Emmanuel Macron

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There are 480 days before the next presidential election here in France. According to tabloid newspaper Le Parisien, Emmanuel Macron faces an extremely challenging schedule, with threats on the political, social, economic and health fronts. 

As he starts the last full year of his five-year mandate, French leader Emmanuel Macron faces a series of major challenges. Not only must he bring the Covid crisis to a less-than-disastrous end and manage national economic recovery, Macron also faces the fallout from Brexit, this summer’s nationwide local elections, and a series of divisive legislative debates.

The president needs no reminding of the difficulties ahead.

During his New Year’s Eve address to the nation, Macron accepted the first few months of 2021 would require action to combat the health crisis, along with the other major challenges. “But we will deal with these difficulties,” the president confidently said.

Brexit, borders and controversial bills 

If the early hours of the post-Brexit era seem to have passed without much sign of the promised chaos in the Channel ports in France, the crucial question of what to do with would-be cross-Channel migrants is yet to be answered.

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The economic impact of the departure of the United Kingdom from the European trading bloc is also difficult to assess in the short term.

The first domestic legislative hurdle will come later this month when the controversial law on “separatism” is debated by the National Assembly. 

The basic idea of the bill is to reinforce French principles against any group or ideology that promotes its own agenda at the expense of liberty, equality and fraternity – which are so dear to the spirit of the nation.

The obvious prime target is radical Islam, with measures including the closure of suspect organisations and the state supervision of religious practice.

While the government claims complete neutrality, it has been criticised as being anti-Muslim by some and as being too lenient against the enemies of the state by others. 

The government will face counter-proposals from the political opposition, and already faces an internal revolt with ruling party deputies promising to introduce their own amendments.

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Photographing the police

The troublesome security law contains a clause controlling the use of images of police in action, which is seen by some as an infringement of basic liberty, and by others as endangering the lives of police officers. It will be read by the Senate, the French upper house, where the forces of the political right are in a majority.

The government will eventually get the law through, but not without the embarrassment caused by senatorial criticism and the danger of long-term damage to the relations between the upper and lower houses of the French parliamentary system. 

It is unlikely that confidence between the police, human rights advocates and the government will emerge from this test unscathed. 

Biodiversity, anyone?

There’s to be a referendum sometime this year on biodiversity and the environment. The basic idea is to get a statement like “the republic guarantees the protection of biodiversity, of the environment and commits to the fight against catastrophic climatic change” into the French constitution.

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Nothing simpler, you might be inclined to think.

But, before the public can vote, the senators and deputies have to agree on the precise wording of the amendment.

Expect pitched battles between the animal rights groups and the hunter-gatherers, between the planetary saviours and the captains of industry, and between those whose hearts are Green but who won’t let pass a chance to mistreat Macron.

With the ultimate danger that the referendum will be reduced to a public expression of anger against an unpopular administration.

Emmanuel Macron’s ecological credential are already in doubt in some quarters because of the way he has handled the citizens’ climate convention. Expect temperatures to rise even further.

Speaking of trouble and strife …

And, as if all that was not enough, remember that laws on retirement reform, unemployment assistance and proportional representation are all suspended, victims of the coronavirus crisis, but are likely to prove troublesome when they once again come to the top of the parliamentary pile.

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