OPINION: Macron has largely solved French unemployment – so why does France give him no credit?

Soaring unemployment was one of France's biggest problems for decades - now the country could be on track for full employment, thanks in large part to the policies of Emmanuel Macron. So why does he get no credit?

OPINION: Macron has largely solved French unemployment - so why does France give him no credit?
French president Emmanuel Macron has set the goal of full employment by 2027. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

French unemployment is the lowest for 40 years. The rate of employment – a figure less often quoted – is the highest for almost half a century.

A grateful nation rejoices. Er, no.

A decade ago unemployment, which was then around 13 percent, was the cause of national misery par excellence. President François Hollande’s five years in office were wrecked by his failure to keep his promise to “reverse the curve of unemployment”.  

Unemployment is now 7.1 percent and falling. There is a good chance that President Emmanuel Macron will keep his promise to restore “full employment” – defined as 5.5 percent of working age people officially without a job – by the time that he leaves office in 2027.

By that measure alone (other measures are available) Macron’s presidency has been an extraordinary success for which the French people give him no credit.

Unemployment was one of the noisiest issues in French politics in the four decades up to 2020. Now France has changed the question.

Only 12 percent of people tell pollsters that unemployment is their greatest concern. The pressing issues for the French people are; the cost of living, insecurity and health. (Immigration comes relatively low down the list despite the permanent nervous breakdown on the subject on the Right and Far Right).

Here is the first explanation for the curious absence of national rejoicing. Emmanuel Macron gets no credit for “solving” the unemployment problem because it is no longer a problem.    

If pressed on the subject, his critics and enemies downplay, or pour scorn, on his success.

 “Unemployment is falling throughout Europe”.

(True but France has not always followed a positive EU  pattern in the past.)

“They are all Uber-jobs or McJobs, precarious, part-time or poorly paid.”

(Untrue. According to the latest statistics from INSEE, France’s official statistics office, the number of permanent contracts has increased by 20 percent in the last three years. The number of full-time workers is the highest since records began in 1975.)

“Unemployment is falling for demographic reasons as the population ages.”

(Marginally true at best. The size of the active population in France is still growing, although its rate of increase has slowed.)

France is now actually creating jobs at a rate higher than its modest economic growth explains. There are also many tens of thousands of empty posts unfilled.


It used to be very expensive to hire people in France and very difficult to fire them. That has changed over the last decade, although the cost of labour (wages plus pay-roll taxes to fund social policies) is still higher in France than it is in Germany and all EU countries outside Scandinavia).

President Nicolas Sarkozy began to reduce payroll taxes in 2007-12. President Hollande, with Macron as his economy minister, continued the process in 2012-6.

He also began to make hiring and firing less complicated. He was detested for it by some in his own Socialist party and the wider Left.

Macron has accelerated the changes in the last six years, with changes in pay-roll and business taxes that are criticised by businesses as vastly complicated and by the Left as “a giant present to the bosses”. He has also simplified/reduced job protections and stiffened the rules for claiming unemployment pay.

Permanent contracts are no longer quite so unbreakable; as a result employers are more likely to sign them.

Does all that explain the fall in the number of unemployed? The Left and the unions say that the tax-breaks have mostly gone into the pockets of “les patrons” – as if paying a huge levy on jobs was somehow normal. The right and far right prefer to talk about immigration and crime – not the modest shift away from high taxes on employment and enterprise which they theoretically support.

All the credit for the fall in unemployment should perhaps not go to Macron. The fact that he is given no credit is perverse.

A problem solved is no longer a problem. No French president is ever popular while in office.

But there is something about Macron which the French particularly love to hate.

Recent insults include: he is a “contemptuous, little technocrat”. His “feet are permanently off the ground”.

Some of this exaggerated Macron-bashing can perhaps be explained by traits in Macron’s character.

The dominant tribes of Left and Right in France have splintered and moved further to the Left and the Right. Macron played his part in encouraging that process; he is now detested from both sides.

He has no natural media constituency of the kind that somewhat protected Sarkozy or Hollande in their darkest days.

About 30 percent of the country (centrist, pro-European, disproportionately old) sticks with Macron. The rest wallows in a near-hysterical hatred of the man who has presided over the solution of the country’s most tenacious problem of the last four decades.

That may something about Macron; it says more about France.  

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French left in last-ditch bid to derail pensions overhaul

France's left-wing forces and labour unions will stage another day of strikes on Tuesday to try to derail President Emmanuel Macron's pensions overhaul, insisting that the fight to thwart the changes is not over even after it became law.

French left in last-ditch bid to derail pensions overhaul

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to take to the streets across France for what will be the fourteenth day of  demonstrations since January to oppose the reform.

Macron signed in April the bill to raise the pension age to 64 from 62 after the government used a controversial but legal mechanism to avoid a vote in parliament that it risked losing.

The later retirement age, which seeks to bolster France’s troubled long-term finances, was a banner pledge of Macron’s second and final term in office, and its smooth implementation is seen by supporters as crucial to his legacy.

Parts of the overhaul, including the key increase in the pension age, were printed on Sunday in France’s official journal, meaning they are now law.

READ MORE: Protests and flight cancellations: What to expect from Tuesday’s French pension strike

Opponents are pinning their hopes on a motion put forward by the small Liot faction in parliament — broadly backed by the left — to repeal the law and the increased retirement age.

Parliament speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, a member of Macron’s party but officially neutral, was to rule on Thursday whether parliament could vote on returning the retirement age to 62.

This was removed from the Liot motion at commission level, but left-wing parties have sought to put it back on the agenda via an amendment.

‘Increase in anger and violence’

In an op-ed for the Le Monde daily on Monday, the key figures from all of France’s left-wing parties urged Braun-Pivet to allow a vote on the motion, at the risk of further unrest.

“For our fellow citizens, a new denial of democracy will only lead to increased disaffection for our institutions, which is already manifesting itself in the form of growing abstentionism, and even an increase in anger and violence,” they said.

Authorities expect up to 600,000 people at the demonstrations nationwide on Tuesday, less than half the peak on March 7th, when 1.28 million were counted by police.

In contrast to the earlier phase of the movement, only limited disruption is expected on public transport though some flight cancellations are awaited, in particular at the Paris Orly airport.

READ MORE: Which French airports will be hit by cancellations during Tuesday’s strike?

“The defeat has not been enacted,” Greens MP Sandrine Rousseau told Radio J, warning that “we will raise our voices” if the parliament vote is not allowed.

The battle against the pensions reform “will never finish”, hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon told the 20 Minutes daily.

But Macron’s allies say it has long been game over for opponents of the reform, even if it remains widely unpopular with the public.

The opposition “knows very well that this motion has no future,” Prisca Thevenot, an MP for Macron’s Renaissance party, told LCI television on Sunday.

The government says the changes are essential for France’s financial health.

In April, Fitch, one of the leading credit ratings agencies, lowered its rating on France’s debt, which is approaching €3 trillion.

But France managed to avoid a new credit downgrade on Friday, when S&P Global maintained the agency’s “AA” rating.