With two weeks to go before the first round of municipal elections, the executive could let go of the ballast on pension reform, too busy managing two more worrying issues: the coronavirus epidemic and the risk of destabilising the economy.
Will the Chinese coronavirus allow the executive to get out of the pension crisis without losing face? The spectre of an epidemic with major consequences for public health and the threat to the stability of Western economies are pushing the pension reform project, which has been bogged down in the Assembly since 17 February 2020, into the background. The three subjects that dominate the news (pensions, epidemics and the economy) are telescoping together to the point of imposing a hierarchy of priorities on political decision-makers.
“Acts of God”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has just raised the level of the Covid-19 threat to “very high” by asking all countries, even those that are spared for the time being, to prepare themselves to face the disease.
In France, the threat is highest with 57 confirmed cases and two deaths (as of 29 February 2020). Emmanuel Macron has taken the measure of the risk. This Saturday, February 29, he is chairing a Defense Council followed by an exceptional Council of Ministers to take stock of the epidemic.
Because the virus is circulating on French territory with outbreaks of infection that are multiplying. Health Minister Olivier Véran recalled the importance of “barrier measures” to prevent the spread of the virus. And Bruno Le Maire, Minister of the Economy, announced that the coronavirus will be considered as a “case of force majeure” for companies which may, if necessary, have “recourse to partial activity” and may benefit, if need be, from “spreading of social and fiscal charges”.
For his part, Jean-Michel Blanquer, Minister of National Education, said that 2,000 students returning from an area affected by the Chinese virus were confined to their homes. Finally, the medical profession is certainly mobilized to face the epidemic, but does not hide its concern about having to receive contaminated patients in an emergency in the context of the public hospital crisis.
The spread of Covid-19 within and outside China is destabilizing many sectors of the global economy. At issue is the globalisation of markets. There are countless factories at a standstill, planes grounded, deserted hotels, museums and closed theatres. The price of oil is plummeting, financial markets are devaluing. In one week the CAC 40 fell 12.9% in Paris. In short, a major economic crisis can no longer be ruled out.
Municipalities in the background
In this anxiety-provoking context, the pension reform project takes second place to the concerns of elected representatives and the population. The executive could take advantage of it. Either by using the famous article 49-3 which allows a bill to be passed without debate and without a vote in the Assembly. But the measure would be very unpopular. Or by letting go of the ballast on the text, and giving satisfaction to the CFDT’s demands on drudgery and the pivotal age. Or again, and the President is thinking about it, according to his entourage, by postponing sine die the pension reform project in which he is entangled.
Emmanuel Macron must make up his mind quickly. Because in two weeks the French will go to the polls for the first round of municipal elections. All the candidates who are either Marcheurs or supported by the LREM presidential party could then take the best electoral jacket of their lives. And achieve the credibility of the President of the Republic.