Elisabeth Bourne, who became the second prime minister of France, has defied the pundits and finally survived the summer holidays.
When comes the hard part for his minority government, big and ambitious plans for change must be negotiated in the case of a fierce opposition in Parliament.
The 61-year-old technocrat, often associated with advising socialist politicians, now has his fate in the hands of the remaining right-wing Gaullist party, Les Republicans (LR), which has only 61 representatives in the French parliament.
After a very disappointing presidential election in April, the LR is now looking at a long-term reconstruction ahead of the 2027 presidential election, and has therefore turned down all offers of a power-sharing deal with Bourne.
Seven weeks later he learned that the party led by his boss, President Emmanuel Macron, had lost its previously large parliamentary majority in assembly elections last month. This was in contrast to a comfortable re-election victory for the president on 24 April, and reinforced the argument that the victory was mainly due to Marine Le Pen’s disapproval of the far-right Rasémbération Nationale (RN).
Even on a good day, the job of a French prime minister is a precarious one, acting on the will of a more powerful president. Given the poor state of his party and government, some estimated Bourne’s chances of survival and the president’s dire response to the parliamentary election debacle was entirely lacking in his reference. Predictions of an early exit abound.
Last week, right-wing editorial writer le figurearo The newspaper admitted that his prediction was wrong. But the author also noted that Bourne came through with the easy part, with a €20bn inflation-relief package making its way through parliament.
Once the government stops giving free money from ATMs, things will be different. le figurearoThe leader made a sharp note. Despite the author’s lack of grace, there’s a serious point here.
The French prime minister survived an initial confidence motion this month only to abstain from the strategic decision of the two right-wing parties against her. However, administering the inflation-relief package was no easy move because the extreme left – led by the surprise package in the presidential election, Jean-Luc Mélenchon – was very important, and it ended last weekend after two noises all night. Done. Sessions of Parliament.
At this, France did what it often does best, throwing massive amounts of money at the problem. As the country faces warnings of rising energy prices, inflation and social unrest, a €5.8bn package of stopgap measures aims to ease the economic pain.
Those measures include raising existing caps on gas and electricity prices and increasing pension and social benefits.
Come the end of the political holidays, the real challenges emerge. Following the Irish political habits of old, the French parliament is not set to return until 3 October. However, all political parties will be back to work in the last week of August. What they lavishly call their “university” – the equivalent of East Dell think-ins.
September is billed as a time of reconciliation between the parties, with Bourne trying to find a deal on smooth parliamentary functioning. It’s a lot easier said than done, but she deserves credit for trying.
President Macron’s autumn political shopping list includes a focus on tackling climate change and modernizing and reforming France’s health and education sectors. He still sticks with the aim of a controversial reform in the pension system that would raise the retirement age to 65 from the current 62.
Progress on any or all of those items will require tenacity, deceit and luck, and help must be purchased from other parties. But Elizabeth Bourne can still take heart from her existence.