Joseph Sternberg outlines the considerable difficulties Emmanuel Macron will face in taking France, a country that works reasonably well but with a focus on the older generations, and turning it into a country that will allow its young to thrive. The success or failure of Macron’s labor reforms will be a major test of how France can handle being reinvented its youth. Sternberg writes (abridged):
Despite wretched headlines in recent decades, France works pretty well.
Yet French workers’ productivity is among the highest in the developed world—higher than Germany, Britain or America. France is home to strong global competitors in industries such as automobiles, aerospace and energy. Unlike most eurozone countries—you too, Germany—France’s financial system is not perennially teetering.
Most important, France is young. Some 18.5% of the population is 15 or younger, second only to Ireland’s 22% and well ahead of Germany’s 13%, the lowest on the Continent.
That demographic reality puts a new spin on what Mr. Macron needs to accomplish for France. He is not reviving an economy that already had more life in it then met the eye. He is transforming France into a country for the young from a country for the old.
Enter Mr. Macron, whose real revolution is the generational shift his policies will effect. The major labor reform he pushed through this autumn is a first step. Gone are industrywide collective-bargaining agreements, hefty severance payments, and suffocating restrictions on flexible contracts.
Then there’s education reform. Mr. Macron has launched a pilot program to reduce class sizes at primary levels. In other countries, this is a make-work ruse for hiring new teachers on the public dime.
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