Macron's Frenetic Efforts to Transform France Leave MPs Fatigued

(Bloomberg) -- In the land of the 35-hour workweek, President Emmanuel Macron’s frenetic efforts to “transform” France has left members of parliament exhausted, with many clocking in more than twice those hours.

“We have had sessions this past month that lasted 80 hours a week, we were in session 17 consecutive days,” National Assembly President Francois de Rugy said Tuesday on Europe 1 radio. “After a while, it’s no longer possible. This is not how a normal assembly works. It doesn’t allow us to produce good laws.”

De Rugy is meeting with party whips to find ways to speed up parliamentary work and stop holding debates on weekends, when many parliamentarians say they should be back in their constituencies meeting voters.

“All of this is totally unreasonable,” Jean-Luc Melenchon , the leader of the far-left party France Unbowed said on May 31 in parliament. “We are exasperated and for some of us, exhausted. This isn’t the normal life of a parliamentarian, staying night and day.”

The government is unapologetic.

“It’s good news that members of parliament are working hard,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told reporters Wednesday. “It means they are hard at work on the transformation of the country. We ask a lot, and we are aware of that.”

‘Not Lazy’

Griveaux also said the government is working on an overhaul of France’s legislature to cut the number of deputies, add an element of proportional representation and speed up debate by limiting how many amendments can be presented.

In the past month, parliament has had to consider bills on asylum and immigration, railways, agricultural practices, housing, and professional training.

Lawmakers’ staff say they’re fed up. In a statement late May, the French association of parliamentary assistants said that working on weekends shouldn’t become the norm. Macron’s aides also privately grumble about workdays that run well into the evenings.

“At least no one is calling us lazy,” Richard Ferrand, chief whip for Macron’s LREM party, which holds a majority in the lower house, told reporters Wednesday.

Marginally Up

Newspaper Le Figaro cast doubt on how much more the National Assembly is working. Using statistics collected by two websites that track parliamentary work, the newspaper calculated that the number of sessions is actually only up 4 percent from the first year of President Francois Hollande’s presidency, though it’s a 61 percent increase from Nicolas Sarkozy’s first year.

Christian Jacob, an opposition member of parliament from Sarkozy’s The Republicans party, told Le Figaro that he blamed the erratic nature of Macron’s agenda.

“From January to March, we weren’t doing all that much, and we often finished the week Wednesday,” he said. “The government controls our agenda.”

What’s also new now is that 75 percent of the National Assembly elected last June hadn’t served in the previous legislature, compared with 40 percent in the 2012 elections.

LREM was created in the slipstream of Macron’s successful presidential run, and used a selection process to whittle down 14,000 candidates to 428 candidates, of which half came from civil society and had no political background. It holds 311 of the 577 seats in the National Assembly. While France also has an upper Senate, its powers are limited.

For the record, members of parliament, like managers and liberal professionals, aren’t limited to 35-hour weeks. They earn about 5,400 euros ($6,480) a month after social charges.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.