French PM faces baptism of fire in divided parliament

By: AFP
Published: 08:57 PM, 6 Jul, 2022
French PM faces baptism of fire in divided parliament
Caption: French PM faces baptism of fire in divided parliament.
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French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne promised dialogue and compromise on Wednesday in her first speech to a stormy new parliament where her minority government is expected to face a constant struggle 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 evoking her family history, including her father's past in Nazi concentration camps, and her pride at being France's second woman prime minister, she ended by saying: "We will manage to build together."

Borne, named prime minister in May, is expected to face a difficult task of building majorities for each bill after President Emmanuel Macron's centrist ruling party lost its majority in parliamentary elections last month.

Macron has since failed to tempt opposition parties into a formal coalition, leading Borne to pepper her speech with remarks to the leaders of different groups when speaking about issues close to their hearts.

Borne outlined immediate priorities that can garner wide support, such helping low-income families cope with the cost-of-living crisis and releasing extra funding for the struggling health service.

But she also set her sights on strategic aims, including plans to push back the legal retirement age and the state taking full control of electricity generator EDF.

The company is expected to build a fleet of new nuclear plants as a key pillar of France's push for carbon neutrality.

Edith Cresson -- France's only woman prime minister before Borne in the early 1990s under president Francois Mitterrand -- told broadcaster BFM that her successor had given a "remarkable" speech.

"She covered the whole range of concerns of the French public" as well as paying homage to earlier trailblazing women politicians, Cresson said.

But NUPES leader Jean-Luc Melenchon later said that Borne "offered nothing that would allow us to find compromises".

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" for Borne, who would have been forced to step down if she lost, explained Bruno Cautres, a researcher at the Cevipof political studies unit at Sciences Po university in Paris.

"She made the right decision, but she didn't really have a choice."  

The hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party, 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 after criticising the premier for failing to call a vote on Wednesday. 

The far-right National Rally, which has 89 MPs in the new parliament, a 10-fold increase, said it would not support the motion. 

As the government's work continues, Borne, a low-key former civil servant, will be constantly vulnerable to a new no-confidence motion, making French politics unpredictable and unstable for the foreseeable future.

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.

It kept most senior figures in their jobs and brought in only junior new faces with little political experience. 

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.