Macron Keeps Crisis Plan Secret in Four-Hour Meeting With Unions

(Bloomberg) -- Emmanuel Macron spent four hours with labor and business leaders on Monday without giving them any indication of how he plans to address the biggest political crisis of his presidency.

The president is reaching out to representatives of French social groups ahead of a televised address at 8 p.m. when he is expected to offer a response to the Yellow Vests protests that have roiled his country for almost a month.

“We have no elements of the solution that the president will set out tonight,” Laurent Berger, leader of the CFDT union, said as he left the Elysee presidential palace. “He has listened to us, now we will see if he’s heard us,” said Yves Veyrier of Force Ouvriere.

Everyone from Yellow Vest protesters themselves to the president’s dwindling number of supporters is anticipating some kind of plan to end the damage to Europe’s second largest economy. The demonstrations began last month as a protest against fuel-tax hikes but have morphed into a catch all for people riled up by the 40-year-old president.

The president’s team hasn’t given any hints either about what he might say. They won’t even indicate how long he’s going to speak for.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux promised on Sunday his boss would bring “tailor-made solutions’’ to “find a way back to hearts of French people.”

Macron’s Options

The French leader has several possible options: cancel his measures that dented pensions; repeal his cuts to the wealth tax; push companies to give workers a one-time untaxed cash bonus; restore housing benefits to the level he inherited last year; cancel the speed limit on rural roads that angered many; suspend or postpone talks to squeeze unemployment benefits; or delay reforms to the pension system.

But he is constrained from the outset: Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud said Sunday the government will not raise the minimum wage and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said France could not afford to deepen the nation’s debt.

"That’s my only prerequisite," he said.

Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux, leader of the Medef business lobby, said he asked the president to cut taxes on overtime and give workers transport subsidies and to alleviate the fiscal pressure. CFDT’s Berger called for a broad debate on fiscal justice. Farmers’ leader Christiane Lambert called for more respect for “the forgotten France.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.