Macron - Berger, ten years between distance and distrust

Often face to face, sometimes side by side, but always at a good distance, Emmanuel Macron and Laurent Berger have found themselves for 10 years at the table of the country's major social arbitrations

Macron - Berger, ten years between distance and distrust

Often face to face, sometimes side by side, but always at a good distance, Emmanuel Macron and Laurent Berger have found themselves for 10 years at the table of the country's major social arbitrations. Autopsy of a relationship that has become open conflict, punctuated by scratches.

Several ministers are still scratching their heads: was it really wise for Emmanuel Macron to scratch the CFDT boss on Wednesday, claiming in particular that he had not offered any "compromise"? What's more, at the bend of an interview supposed to appease the social conflict over the pension reform?

A "small cleat", "not essential", suits a government heavyweight. With Mr. Berger, "I don't know if they hate each other" but "there is something complicated", blows another, anxious to pick up the pieces with the trade unionist.

The boss of the senators of the majority François Patriat summarizes the nervousness at the top: "Berger was not legit", he squeaks, affirming that the confederal leader "was well convinced" of the need for an increase in retirement age.

After getting angry at the presidential "denial and lies", Mr. Berger eased the tension by proposing a six-month "pause" in the reform. If Mr. Macron refused, he however took care to underline Friday “the spirit of responsibility” and the “willingness of appeasement” of the trade unionist.

This new rise in temperature between the two men is only the logical continuation of a ten-year relationship, degraded with the accession of Emmanuel Macron to the Elysée in 2017.

Laurent Berger, elected in 2012 at the head of the CFDT, first met Emmanuel Macron the same year. The latter then worked on the presidential campaign of François Hollande before becoming a close collaborator, then his Minister of the Economy.

Poverty plan in 2013, opening of work on Sundays in 2015, or the El Khomri law in 2016 see Mr. Macron and Mr. Berger negotiating step by step.

At that time, the future president leaked his good understanding with the trade unionist to the press, even if it meant annoying the latter. It was also at this time that Mr. Macron, who lost certain arbitrations with François Hollande, forged the conviction of a distancing of the social partners.

"I think he sees the unions from the outset as a factor of archaism and immobility," observes Pierre Ferracci, leader of the Alpha consulting group and connoisseur of social issues.

Mr. Macron exposes this vision to the CFDT during his campaign, in March 2017: in a video, he denounces a "perverse functioning" and recalls that it is not "the role" of the unions to "participate in the factory of the law". The participants come out flabbergasted. "We knew, at that time, that we would have great difficulties on the role of the trade unions, the day he would come to power", rewinds Laurent Berger.

First French trade union, reformist tendency moreover, the CFDT is an essential interlocutor of the social dialogue. But the climate is deteriorating with the executive from the summer of 2017 and the adoption of work orders.

Presidential anger rumbled back against Mr. Berger when he co-signed a vitriolic platform in January 2018 against the asylum-immigration law, accusing Mr. Macron, who became aware of it in the middle of a trip to Calais, of missing " of humanity".

At the start of the yellow vests crisis at the end of 2018, there was total consternation when, at Mr. Berger's proposal to convene a social conference, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe opposes a clumsy end of non-receipt.

And resentment rises in December 2019, already in the midst of pension reform. Mr. Berger, in favor of Emmanuel Macron's project for a universal points system, sees one of his red lines crossed: the establishment of a pivotal age. The executive loses its main partner and the majority is even divided around the attitude to adopt towards Mr. Berger.

At the same time, the macronie looks with suspicion on the "Pact of the power to live" launched by Mr. Berger with other trade union organizations and associations. Does the trade unionist have political ambitions? Could it capture a dormant social democratic space? This one applies to deny with length of interviews.

Mr. Macron and Mr. Berger see each other little, despite the occasional efforts of part of the presidential entourage. The trade unionist, who likes to "compartmentalize", assures him: "there is no personal problem between him and me, because we have no personal relationship".

The boss of the CFDT, who is about to hand over, clings to an open line, as illustrated by his participation in the "National Council for Refoundation", a body wanted by Emmanuel Macron but largely boycotted by political forces and unions.

"The idea that it is Berger's anger that inspires his attitude, you don't have to know anything about the unions to think such a thing," agrees political scientist Jean-Marie Pernot.

03/25/2023 16:19:55 -         Paris (AFP) -         © 2023 AFP