PARIS — French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne promised on Wednesday to boost employment, cut taxes, support purchasing power, tackle climate issues and help France better cope with the consequences of war. in Ukraine, in particular by nationalizing the electricity giant EDF.
Borne outlined his top priorities in his first major speech to the National Assembly after last month’s legislative elections cost French President Emmanuel Macron’s government its majority.
She said the government planned to nationalize French electricity giant EDF – one of the world‘s largest electricity generators – amid an energy crisis made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. .
EDF manages France’s large fleet of nuclear reactors, which face a series of technical and other problems. Next-generation reactors are years behind schedule and billions over budget.
“The war in Ukraine, on Europe’s doorstep, reminds us how fragile peace is. Energy prices are rising and we must continue to protect the French. The pandemic (COVID-19) is still there and our vigilance must remain total,” said Borne.
The announcement on EDF came as she detailed the government’s program for the coming years in front of very vocal lawmakers from left and right, who together outnumber members of the president’s centrist alliance at the National Assembly.
“The French have elected an Assembly without a simple majority. They invite us to have new practices and an intensive dialogue to actively seek compromises,” Borne said.
Macron’s camp suffered heavy losses in the legislative elections. His alliance, Together!, won the most seats in the Assembly, but fell 44 seats short of a majority as voters opted for the left-wing coalition or the far-right.
Having the largest group of lawmakers, the Macron government still has the ability to govern, but only by negotiating with opposition lawmakers. To avoid the impasse, Borne promised to negotiate on a case-by-case basis on future invoices.
She called on lawmakers and the government to “build together”, saying she was ready to “hear the proposals” of opposition members and, in some cases, to accept their amendments – a very unusual method in France.
“Disorder and instability are not options,” she said. “We may not agree on all the solutions, but we are all aware of the urgency to act.”
A bill which will be presented at a Cabinet meeting on Thursday is to focus on helping struggling households in the face of rising energy and food prices. It is to include measures worth 25 billion euros ($25.5 billion), including a 4% increase in pensions and some social benefits.
Borne said gas and electricity prices will remain capped as they are now. She confirmed that civil servants will see their salaries increased by 3.5%. In addition, rent increases will be capped.
Borne also addressed key economic changes promised by Macron as he successfully ran for re-election in April.
Full employment “is not an illusion”, she said. It is “within our reach”.
The unemployment rate in France recently fell to 7.3%, from more than 10% when Macron came to power in 2017.
Stressing that the French are retiring earlier than “all of our European neighbours”, she pledged to implement pension changes designed to ensure that the French are “working progressively longer”, prompting boos at the both from the left and from the extreme right. Macron has promised to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 65 and raise the minimum pension to 1,100 euros ($1,120).
Borne also urged lawmakers to act on climate-related issues and pledged to meet the target set by France and the European Union to reduce greenhouse gases by at least 55% in 2030 by compared to 1990.
“We want to be, we will be, the first major nation to get out of fossil fuels,” she promised.
Borne also had strong words to promote gender equality; she is the second woman ever appointed as Prime Minister.
The left-wing coalition, known as Nupes, has officially requested a no-confidence motion to symbolically mark its opposition to the government.
The motion is very unlikely to pass as it is very unlikely to win the approval of more than half of all lawmakers. The main opposition group, the far-right National Rally, as well as Les Républicains, have already declared that their representatives will abstain.
The vote of no confidence must be organized within a week, but no earlier than Friday afternoon.
On Monday, Macron shuffled his cabinet and called on his new government to “stay strong” in the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine and to “transform” the heavily indebted French economy.
Three of Macron’s 15 ministers failed to retain their seats in last month’s election and were replaced.
In addition, Damien Abad, who was Minister for Disability Policies and is under investigation for allegations of rape and sexual misconduct, was also replaced. Abad strongly denies the allegations.
Angela Charlton contributed to this report.