Tue, Sep 26, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Macron tested by truckers in wake of Senate defeat

AFP, PARIS

Trade union members block a traffic circle near a refinery in Donges, France, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

French truckers yesterday began blocking motorways and fuel depots at the start of a series of demonstrations against French President Emmanuel Macron and changes to labor law, one day after Macron’s political party suffered its first electoral setback in French Senate elections.

Drivers from the CGT and FO trade unions moved into position before dawn on a motorway near the northeastern border with Belgium while others blockaded roads near major cities such as Marseille and Bordeaux.

Macron has faced two days of strikes and demonstrations from the CGT in the past two weeks, and a protest rally by the hard-left France Unbowed party at the weekend, but has vowed to press on with the changes.

“It’s not by blocking the French economy that will make it better,” French Secretary of State for Economy and Finance Benjamin Griveaux told RTL radio yesterday, adding that the government would continue to talk with truckers’ unions.

The government has said that the country has sufficient gasoline and diesel stocks to ride out the blockade — which could be extended later in the day — but has warned that panic buying by drivers would increase the risk of major disruption.

The labor market reforms, signed by Macron on Friday last week, are designed to give employers more flexibility to negotiate pay and conditions with their workers while making it easier and less costly to shed staff.

Macron’s new centrist political party on Sunday suffered its first electoral setback in Senate elections, in which the right-wing Republican Party strengthened its dominance in the upper chamber of French parliament.

Results from the vote to renew 171 of 348 seats left Macron’s Republic on the Move party (LREM) with a group of only 28 senators.

The outcome, which is not expected to significantly affect Macron’s ability to push through his economic reform agenda, came after months of falling approval ratings for the 39-year-old head of state.

However, a poll published on Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed 45 percent of respondents approved of his presidency, up from 40 percent last month.

French senators are elected by 76,000 local and national lawmakers, not the general public, which put LREM at a disadvantage, because the party was only formed in April last year and is not implanted nationwide.

However, Macron’s top team had once hoped to increase their presence in the upper house from the 29 seats they controlled, comprising lawmakers who had switched over to the party.

“We would have liked to do better,” the head of LREM’s group in the Senate, Francois Patriat, said.

The Republicans were the main winners, set for 159 seats after the election, up from 142.

“It’s really good news,” senior figure Bruno Retailleau said before the final results.

Laurent Wauquiez, a candidate for presidency of the Republicans, welcomed the result as a “first warning” for Macron.

The Socialists limited the damage, despite their crushing defeat in the presidential and legislative elections, and returned 81 senators, a loss of five seats.

The election underscores some of the challenges for LREM as a new pro-European, pro-business political movement to support his presidential bid.

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