France's 35-hour working week 'most effective pro-employment measure since the 1970s'

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Since its introduction by a socialist government in 2000, France’s 35-hour working week is the subject of political controversy at home and myth abroad. While it has long been the bugbear of the French Right, now the current socialist government’s economy minister Emmanuel Macron has called for its application to be eased, supposedly to increase business competitiveness. Outside of France, it is often misunderstood as the illustration of a laid-back workforce – but who, according to Federal Reserve Economic Data, in reality work more hours annually than their German counterparts. This month, a French parliamentary commission of enquiry into ‘the relative societal, economic and financial impact of the reduction in working hours’, prompted by centre-right MPs, published its findings. To the surprise of many, and the ire of some, it broadly concludes that the measure, arguably the last most significant socialist reform, has proved a positive one. In this report by Mathieu Magnaudeix, the parliamentary commission’s rapporteur Barbara Romagnan argues why the 35-hour week has been positive for employees and employers alike, and why introducing a further reduction in basic working hours should not be excluded.

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More than 14 years after the law fixing a 35-hour working week was introduced in France, the fiery debate over this emblematic reform of the 1997-2002 socialist government of prime minister Lionel Jospin continues to occupy the political centre stage. While the Right accuses it of being at the heart of many of the problems encountered by the French economy, the law is now also contested among some of the ruling Socialist Party’s ranks.