Et tu, Berger?

Arthur Goldhammer
11 December 2019

Emmanuel Macron appears to have lost Laurent Berger. This is the French political equivalent of a bad Groundhog Day: we are in for at least six more weeks of winter strikes. I won’t pretend to explain the difference between the “legal age” of retirement and the “equilibrium age,” or between a “parametric reform” and a “systemic reform.” Although the task of explanation would not be impossible, it would nevertheless be pointless, because what it comes down is the fundamental mistrust between the parties to this standoff. On all the issues in this imbroglio, compromise should be possible, but it’s not going to happen until everyone has tired of standing on principle while queuing up for rare buses and subways.

I’m not sure that the government has any more cards up its sleeve. It has been wooing Berger and the CFDT for 18 months, to no avail. Macron’s charm has failed to work its magic. What happens next is anyone’s guess, but the March municipal elections are shaping up to be a disaster for Macron and his party. The months ahead will be interesting for those ambitious to replace the president. It’s time for them to show their hands by proposing ideas to a government that seems to be out of them.

 

Photo Credit: Service de presse : Info-Com CFDT, Laurent Berger, via Wikimedia Commons, Open License.

 

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3 Comments

  • bernard says:

    It is interesting though that since the Prime Minister’s presentation at noon French time, he has been walking back – or rather offering to discuss – items that seemed already fixed in his speech. Even the 64 “age pivot” does not seem suddenly to be that sacred in the reform. Perhaps the PM was surprised to lose Berger as well as all the “reformist” trade unions (CFTC? Dear god!). The feeling that I am getting is that the government, having been very amateurish in its handling of unions, is waking up to the danger and will be desperate to try to extinguish this wild fire prior to Christmas. The unions on their side want to administer an object lesson to the government: the third rail of politics is indeed lethal. I am not totally sure of the PM’s life expectancy at the helm.

  • Anonymous says:

    There’s no magic bullet for France’s structural problems, and none of the potential challengers to Macron have one. Notwithstanding, potential rivals are perhaps more audacious now than they were after the President’s successful listening tour: that’s politics. As Gordon Frazer observed (and I paraphrase) in another context, his book on mythology, “The Golden Bough”:
    “To become the ‘priest in the wood’, you have to kill the ‘priest in the wood’.”
    I would be surprised, though, if Macron and Philippe did not anticipate the “guet-apens”, their enemies hope for over the next few weeks. Tactically, Macron and Philippe probably ought to have reversed the order of reforms achieved to date to avoid being tarred by the “president des riches” label also stuck on Sarkozy. However, what’s done is done, although I don’t know that I would sound the death knell for Macron based on the municipal elections
    Vis-a-vis Laurent Berger, it seems to me a bit of a pipe dream to think that a union chief would join the reform, and I can’t believe the government ever thought he would.. One-on-one Berger may be a reasonable man, but the only game a union chief can play if he wants to maintain the support of his membership is to ask for more and not compromise. Surely Macron and Philippe knew and know this.
    So, contra Art, I hope rumors of Macron’s death are greatly exaggerated: but we’ll see how the next weeks go.

  • FrédéricLN says:

    Fully agree with the post (ok, this is a pointless comment!).

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