Macron seeks support for EU reform plans

Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron embarks on a three-country tour of central and southeast Europe on Wednesday, hoping to drum up support for his ambitious EU reform agenda as his ratings falter at home.Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron embarks on a three-country tour of central and southeast Europe on Wednesday, hoping to drum up support for his ambitious EU reform agenda as his ratings falter at home.The main focus of the trip to Austria, Romania and Bulgaria will be his push to change a controversial EU regulation allowing companies to send workers to other members states without paying local social charges.Macron, elected in May, has promised to overhaul the so-called Posted Workers Directive because it is used by eastern Europe companies to undercut their rivals in wealthier members such as France.For example, it enables a Polish firm to win a contract in France and then send Polish workers to carry out the work without having to pay French social charges, which are higher than in Poland.“It’s a sensitive issue in all our countries, particularly in France but not only there,” said a French diplomat on condition of anonymity. “It’s about how people perceive economic competition in Europe.”Foreign companies competing unfairly with French ones is seen by Macron as a driver of anti-EU sentiment which helped the eurosceptic far-right and far-left to record scores in France’s elections earlier this year.“Do you think I can explain to the French middle classes that companies are closing in France to relocate to Poland because it’s cheaper there and that here (in France) construction companies are employing Polish workers because they are less expensive? This system doesn’t work,” Macron said in June.Reforming the directive is one part of the 39-year-old centrist’s broader push to create a new “protective Europe” that helps shield citizens from the effects of cut-throat international competition. He is also pushing for a new mechanism to screen non-EU investments, particularly from China, into strategic areas of the European economy, as well as tougher measures to block the dumping of cheap imports on the continent.Other strands include creating a “Buy European Act”, which would oblige EU governments to buy more from companies that manufacture inside the bloc.Pierre Vimont, a former French diplomat and senior fellow at the Carnegie Europe think tank, called changing the Posted Workers Directive “a symbolic case” for the president. “Macron needs to deliver for French public opinion,” he added. A recent survey showed only 37 per cent of people were happy with Macron’s performance in office so far. — AFP