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Good morning. Emmanuel Macron’s bold reform agenda stumbled through one big test last night, in a warning sign ahead of far more difficult challenges to come — as my Paris colleague explains. Plus: we’ve got our hands on the European parliament’s draft plans designed to prevent any more MEPs (allegedly) taking bags of cash from foreign governments. If you were expecting a blockbuster overhaul, you may be disappointed.
Manu labours through
As French president Emmanuel Macron braces himself for a showdown with political opponents and unions over his unpopular overhaul of France’s pension system, his government last night cobbled together at least one victory in the country’s fragmented parliament, writes Sarah White.
Yet even that green energy bill, passed with two dozen votes to spare, followed weeks of wrangling with opposition parties. It proved an arduous test of Macron’s ability to pursue ambitious reforms in his second term, after his centrist alliance lost its majority last June.
The new law, which aims to speed up the rollout of renewable energy projects by cutting red tape, was adopted in a lower house vote only after getting last-minute backing from the socialist party, lifting the votes in favour to 286 versus 238 against.
That marked the first time Macron needed to rely on the left instead of the conservative Les Républicains, who have supported some economic measures and whom he is wooing for support on his bold bid to raise the retirement age.
But the renewable energy bill was still subjected to dozens of compromise amendments, including some reinforcing the role of local authorities. It elicited strenuous opposition from other quarters.
“We lifted our red lines, but we were also able to bring our own changes,” said Stéphane Delautrette, a socialist lawmaker.
Long reliant on its nuclear power industry, France is behind its neighbours on EU-sanctioned rollout targets for wind and solar power. The bill aims to diminish court challenges to projects, encourage the installation of more solar panels on car parks, and lead to better planning by region rather than one wind farm at a time.
But Macron has far bigger battles to fight as he turns to his pension reform. The attempt could define his second term in the Élysée, given that polls show around 70 per cent of citizens oppose his proposals and labour unions are planning nationwide protests to begin next week.
If opposition to the pensions reform proves insurmountable, Macron has options to force it through, avoiding a parliamentary vote. But as popular unrest looms, he has more than enough incentive to find a compromise.
Chart du jour: Hot in here
Last year was the fifth warmest on record, and Europe had its hottest ever summer. And 2023 could be even worse, according to forecasters.
More bark than bite
The grand reform agenda for the European parliament following corruption allegations involving Qatar and suitcases of cash looks distinctly less grand than trailed, according to a draft of the proposals seen by Sam Fleming and Alice Hancock.
The document sets out 14 objectives including sensible-sounding elements such as “shining a brighter light on Members’ activities” and “mandatory publication of meetings” but is unlikely to go as far as transparency campaigners want. It will conversely no doubt peeve MEPs who don’t want the extra administrative burden of reporting all their chats with lobbyists.
The proposals are envisaged as short-term options “to reinforce the European parliament’s tools on transparency, ethics and conduct” in response to the corruption scandal that broke before Christmas.
If introduced, all non-members will have to report their arrival in parliament premises and former MEPs will be stripped of their permanent access badges. MEPs will also have to declare meetings relating to legislative work.
One parliament official said these reforms were just the initial step, with more to come, adding: “While these might not stop anyone blatantly accepting cash, reforms are needed to address weaknesses and to rebuild trust.”
Campaigners such as Transparency International and Alter-EU have said that it should be obligatory for all meetings between MEPs and third parties to be reported and compliance with the rules should have external oversight.
Parliament president Roberta Metsola, who vowed reforms to ensure the chamber is “not for sale to foreign actors”, is due to present the proposals to parliamentary group leaders tomorrow.
Michiel van Hulten, a former MEP and now director at Transparency International, reckons “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”. Let’s see if MEPs find the menu easy to digest.
What to watch today
Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, fresh from their uber-awkward three-way handshake yesterday — meet at 09.45 ahead of College discussion on security and defence.
Portuguese prime minister António Costa faces parliament in the wake of yet another resignation from his government under the cloud of scandal.
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