French PM calls for compromise in first speech to stormy parliament
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne called for compromise on Wednesday in her first speech to France’s stormy new parliament where her minority government will need support from opposition parties to pass legislation.
“We will approach every draft law in a spirit of dialogue, compromise and openness,” Borne told MPs as she laid out the government’s policy priorities.
The 61-year-old often had to push on through shouts and chanting from the floor, especially from the benches of the left-wing NUPES alliance, which called an immediate no-confidence vote on her leadership.
After recalling her family history, including her father’s past in Nazi concentration camps, and her pride at being only the second French woman PM, she ended by saying: “We will manage to build together.”
French politics has been cast into an unusual period of instability following parliamentary elections last month that saw the ruling party of recently re-elected President Emmanuel Macron fall short of a majority by 39 seats.
Borne, a low-key civil servant named to her post in May, is expected to face constant negotiations to find majorities for each piece of legislation after failing to agree a formal coalition deal with any opposition group.
Though she was condemned by the hard-left France Unbowed party and Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally on Wednesday, the crucial right-wing Republicans party signalled it would be prepared to work with her on security, immigration and tax cuts.
“We do not intend to paralyse everything at a time when our country is already so far behind,” the parliamentary head of the party, Olivier Marleix, said. “We are ready to vote for all the bills that contribute to a national renewal.”
Support from the 62 Republicans MPs would be enough for the government to pass laws.
Borne outlined immediate priorities that are expected to garner wide support, such as helping low-income families cope with a cost-of-living crisis and releasing extra funding for the struggling health service.
But she also set her sights on other policy goals announced by Macron during his successful bid for a second term in April, including plans to push back the legal retirement age to 65 and the full nationalisation of state-controlled power group EDF.
The company, currently 84-percent state-owned, is expected to build a fleet of new nuclear plants as a key pillar of France’s push for carbon neutrality.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the far-left France Unbowed, criticised Borne as leading a government without a majority and said she “offered nothing that would allow us to find compromises”.
Borne has already ruled out working with his party, as well as Le Pen’s anti-immigration National Rally.
– No-confidence vote –
Without formal allies in the 577-seat national assembly, Borne 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 would be “too risky” because a loss would have been forced her to step down, explained Bruno Cautres, a researcher at Sciences Po university in Paris.
France Unbowed, one of the big gainers in June’s parliamentary polls, filed a no-confidence motion alongside its Socialist, Communist and Green allies before Borne even began speaking.
“Without a confidence vote, we have no choice but to file this motion of defiance,” the groups’ joint text read, according to sources in parliament.
“It probably won’t pass but it’s important to make ourselves heard,” top LFI MP Mathilde Panot told BFM television.
Borne will be constantly vulnerable to a no-confidence motion which would need the support of the hard-left, the far-right and the right-wing Republicans to be successful.
– Exhausted? –
Only two months after he was re-elected to a historic second term, Macron finds his hands partly tied and his capacity to push through reforms diminished.
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.
A cabinet reshuffle announced on Tuesday did little to inject new momentum into his government as he failed to attract any new heavy-hitters.