PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron planned to focus this month on promoting his policies to reshape the economy. Instead, he's encountered obstacles.
The resignations of two popular Cabinet ministers, snags in a pending income tax system and anger over cuts in family and housing benefits greeted Macron as France returned from summer holidays.
Last week, the 40-year-old leader branded the French as "Gauls resistant to change." He made the remark while reaffirming his intent to push for loosening France's rigid labor rules despite such resistance.
Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot's resignation last week was an unexpected blow. Hulot, the well-known host of a television nature show, personified Macron's agenda for greener policies.
Hulot's decision to quit raised questions about the president's commitment to "Make our planet great again" — a verbal jab at U.S. President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate accords
An experienced politician and environmentalist, Francois de Rugy, was named as the new environment minister Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Sport Minister Laura Flessel, who holds two Olympic gold medals in fencing, tendered her resignation Tuesday for "personal reasons." She was replaced by swimmer Roxana Maracineanu, world champion in backstroke at the 1998 World Aquatics Championships.
A major change in French life is set to take place in January with the introduction of a new schedule and system for paying income taxes.
Macron suggested last week that potential technical bugs could be an issue. His comments made the government look unprepared to the public.
Yet Prime Minister Edouard Philippe confirmed on Tuesday night the measure, launched under Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande, will be implemented as planned.
The measure would require workers to have taxes automatically and immediately deducted from their monthly salaries each month. French workers currently pay taxes on what they earned the year before with one or several payments.
The switch has raised concerns about taxpayer privacy since employers and not tax authorities would be responsible for overseeing the automated deductions.
The government also fears a negative psychological impact on French workers who would see lower monthly earnings on their pay slips even though their annual tax liability would be the same.
The French government recently lowered its economic growth forecast for next year to 1.7 percent —down from the previous estimate of 1.9 percent— and unveiled plans to cut public spending.
Pensions and family and housing benefits would no longer be pegged to inflation. That means they would increase at a more moderate pace and the purchasing power of retirees and families would decrease.
Philippe, the prime minister, said the government would not cut benefits for France's poorest residents.
Macron has pledged to pursue labor changes in the coming months, with a focus on small businesses, to boost growth.
Two recent opinion polls by French institutes Ifop and BVA showed Macron's popularity rating at 31 and 34 percent respectively — the lowest since his election in May 2017.
Meanwhile, labor unions are considering more strikes to protest policies of Macron's they see as weakening hard-won workers protections.
Worker unions CGT and FO and student unions Unef and UNL have called for an "action day" on Oct. 9.
Macron's government struggled in the past year to pass labor reforms and a revamping of national railway company SNCF. The initiatives prompted large protests and months-long rolling strikes from railway workers.