PARIS – Vowing to heal France’s “doubts and divisions,” President Emmanuel Macron is expected to turn quickly to tackling one of the key issues that spurred over 40 percent of voters to cast a ballot for the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen: an erosion in purchasing power and living standards that fueled resentment during his first term.
The French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, vowed Monday during an interview on Europe 1 that Mr. Macron’s second term would be different. “We can’t forget the message they sent. We need to change our way of governing, ”he said.
The euro rose briefly Monday on Mr. Macron’s victory, which was largely expected in financial markets and greeted with relief by European leaders who welcomed political continuity in one of Europe’s most powerful countries. Ms. Le Pen, who planned to pull back from European integration, was widely seen as a danger to EU unity.
One of Mr. Macron’s first priorities will be a “purchasing power package” he outlined during the campaign. It includes pushing through measures by summer to increase pensions, raise social subsidies for households strained by galloping inflation and offer tax breaks to encourage companies to give hefty cost-of-living bonuses.
Mr. Le Maire added that caps on energy prices that Mr. Macron put in place to combat soaring energy bills from Russia’s war in Ukraine would be maintained until the end of the year. That was an apparent concession to a proposal by Ms. Le Pen to lower value-added taxes on energy and gas to 5.5 percent, from 20 percent.
“There is a lot to do on inflation, on the economy,” Le Maire said.
Although Mr. Macron presided over economic growth and a sharp decline in unemployment, he was unable to ease growing inequality. If he wins a parliamentary majority in June’s legislative elections, he would have more freedom to move ahead with his economic program.
French labor unions welcomed Mr. Macron’s victory, but said he needed to bridge France’s divide. They urged him to focus on social and economic issues that led people to vote for Ms. Le Pen – even as they called for nationwide demonstrations on May 1 to demand that Mr. Macron push increases in wages and pensions, delay plans to hike the retirement age and further emphasize environmental policy.
“The worst was avoided today. But nearly 42 percent of the votes for the far right mean that nothing can and should be as before, ”Laurent Berger, secretary general of the CFDT, one of France’s leading labor unions, wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
Solidaires, another big union, warned that the strength of the far right has appeared to be growing, in part because of “antisocial policies” by French governments. Despite Mr. Macron’s win, the union said he had “no popular legitimacy to implement antisocial reforms,” especially a plan to raise the retirement age to 64 or 65 to fund France’s national pension system (the current retirement age is 62).
Business lobbies were elated at Mr. Macron’s win, having warned that Ms. Le Pen’s ideas of wresting France away from Europe would do incalculable damage to the country and its economy. But they acknowledged that social unrest could flare again.
Mr. Macron’s first term was marked by mass demonstrations against his proposals to change the pension system, as well as the Yellow West movement, which brought millions of disenchanted workers out in protest at being left behind in the French economy.
“The president has before him the labors of Hercules, in that I believe the world has never been as unstable as we know,” said François Asselin, president of an industry group representing small and midsize businesses. “The question is going to be how to get as many people as possible to accept the reforms that the country needs, without there being blockages, because we need a country that works.”