French Labor Minister at NYU Event: ‘We Are at a Turning Point in France’

In light of the ongoing yellow vests protests in France, French Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud discussed the impact of the movement on France’s economy.

Jesse Jimenez, Staff Writer

From grappling with a stagnant economy to protests over working and middle class treatment across the country, France has been attempting to institute a series of reforms to mitigate issues.

French Labor Minister Muriel Penicaud discussed France’s numerous economic reforms in light of these issues with students and faculty during a talk at La Maison Française at NYU this Monday.

“We are at a turning point in France, Europe and the world,” Penicaud said. “The best thing we can do is to share, to exchange, to debate.”

Penicaud discussed France’s efforts to transition toward a more liberal economy. Some of these reforms include strengthening the relationship between employers and employees, allowing for greater social mobility, bridging the gender pay gap and focusing on reducing the unemployment rate, which is currently 8.8 percent.

France made global headlines in November after hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest rising fuel prices and a series of reforms that French President Emmanuel Macron enacted. Critics claim that these reforms disproportionately affect the finances of working and middle class citizens. Protestors wore yellow vests, a symbol of France’s working class. Despite a dwindling number of participants, the protests have continued for over 16 weeks.

In a Q&A session, one student was critical of Penicaud’s position that violence in the yellow vests movement can work to discredit the protestors.

“I think there’s something to be said and heard if people are willing to break things to create change,” the student said.

However, Penicaud did not discredit the movement’s intentions, and she acknowledged that the abrupt change in policy — namely the price of fuel — may have needed additional preparation.

“We cannot go directly to climate change policy, without more social help,” Penicaud said.

Alec Shea, a graduate student pursuing a degree in French Studies, questioned the reliability of the current design for the French economy.

“If this current effort does not produce results, do you have any other path forward?” Shea asked.

Penicaud responded by saying that the government may be open to adopting other economic modes, such as that of the U.S.’s, into France’s own economic design.

After the presentation, Shea expressed concerns over the implications if the current liberal government were to fail.

“My fear is that if the French are turned away by the current government, it would open the door for someone like Marine Le Pen,” Shea said.

Le Pen is a far-right political leader of France’s National Rally party, who has come under fire in the past for views some condemned as xenophobic and racist. She ran for president in France’s 2017 elections, but ultimately lost to Macron.

Tariq Mosaad, a graduate student pursuing a degree in French Studies, was supportive of the ideals and reforms discussed by Penicaud, but was unsure of how successful they could be.

“She hit on all the big things,” Mosaad said. “Focusing on the skills of workers and on upwards social mobility was important, but I didn’t get a good sense of the feasibility of it all.”

Email Jesse Jimenez at [email protected]

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