Updated on September 21 at 6:56 a.m. ET
After decades of fraught attempts at reforming France’s sacrosanct labor code, French President Emmanuel Macron will use a presidential decree Friday to push through a series of business-friendly reforms. The aim is to give greater leeway to employers and to tackle the country’s near double-digit unemployment rate. It’s an ambitious plan for a new leader like Macron, and one that has already prompted street protests by labor unions opposed to it. But the 39-year-old leader, armed with a parliamentary majority, remains undeterred.
“I was very clear during my campaign about the reforms,” Macron told CNN’s chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour Tuesday. “I explained those reforms, I presented those reforms during weeks and weeks, and I was elected on those reforms. I do believe in democracy, and democracy is not on the street. They voted.”
The reforms, which Macron described as a “Copernican revolution,” mark a significant overhaul of the country’s century-old labor code, Le Code du Travail. First developed in the early 20th century during a period of rapid industrial growth, French labor laws span nine books and thousands of pages, detailing everything from the rules around hiring and firing employees, to those that govern collective bargaining. Despite attempts by previous governments to reform the code, France’s powerful unions have long thwarted any serious changes. Macron learned this firsthand during his brief tenure as economy minister under former Socialist President François Hollande, whose attempt at passing similar reforms sparked nationwide protests that ultimately resulted in the final versions being watered down.