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 mi-nority 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 priori-ties. 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 minis-ter, 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 par-ties 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 fami-lies 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, in-cluding 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 — some-thing 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.—AFP

 

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