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The Borne Supremacy: French PM pitches Macron’s reform agenda amid parliamentary chaos

PARIS — French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne came out swinging Wednesday, giving a speech to a fragmented parliament in which she laid out broad policy lines for her new government amid vociferous opposition, especially from left-wing MPs.

“For too long our political life has been made up of two opposing blocs. It is time to enter the era of forces that build together,” Borne told the National Assembly in an animated speech that lasted an hour and a half.

Borne outlined the highlights of her government’s program, spanning from pension reform to the full nationalization of debt-laden energy giant EDF.

The scene was at times reminiscent of the noise and chaos seen in the U.K.’s House of Commons and reflected the reality of French President Emmanuel Macron’s second term, as he lacks an outright majority and will face strong opposition to his reform agenda. After June’s parliamentary election, Macron’s coalition failed to obtain an absolute majority and will therefore have to find support from other political groups on a bill-by-bill basis.

Heading a minority government — a rare occurrence in modern France — Borne cast herself as the ideal leader to mediate between different parties, while making clear that the government won’t give up on its most controversial priorities. “I probably don’t fit the robot portrait that some were expecting,” she said, hinting at the fact that she won’t simply execute Macron’s orders. “It’s a good thing, the situation is unprecedented.”

As she listed her priorities, Borne had to face continuous interruptions from opposition lawmakers, especially from the left-wing France Unbowed movement but also, to a lesser extent, from the conservative Republicans. But the freshly-confirmed prime minister didn’t seem to be put off by the at-times steady stream of jeers, and she smiled at nearly every interruption. Compared with other opposition lawmakers, MPs from the far-right National Rally remained mostly muted.

Borne went on to detail an upcoming so-called “purchasing power” package that aims to fight the pressures from growing inflation and will be discussed in parliament in the coming days. The “urgency text” will notably prolong existing measures to cap the price of gas and electricity, and introduce special financial support for people who have to use vehicles for work, Borne said. It will also reduce taxes on autonomous workers and raise the value of social benefits and pensions.

Borne was quick to reassure lawmakers that “these measures are our working basis” and that the government “will listen to you and amend them when convergences will emerge.”

In her wide-ranging speech, Borne had to find an equilibrium between the government’s goals and the fragmentation in parliament.

She insisted on some of Macron’s distinctive proposals such as a controversial reform that would raise the pension age. “Our social model is a paradox: it is one of the most generous and one in which we work the least,” she said. “Yes, progressively we will have to work a bit longer,” she added, triggering a wave of boos from opposition lawmakers. At the same time, she tried to praise left-wing and Green lawmakers — as she insisted on the need to reduce energy consumption — but also gave a nod to right-wing MPs by promising better management of migration flows and more resources for police.

She called for reducing energy dependence on Russia and made clear that investments in nuclear energy will remain a top priority for France. “Energetic transition involves nuclear,” she said, adding that such an approach “is widely shared” by lawmakers.

Elisa Braün, Julie Tomiche and Victor Di Bartolo contributed reporting.

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