Posted-Workers Reform a Largely Symbolic Victory for Macron

The changes affect few workers, but the French leader believes they have symbolic value.

Emmanuel Macron Alexis Tsipras Angela Merkel
French president Emmanuel Macron, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and German chancellor Angela Merkel speak during a NATO summit in Brussels, May 25 (NATO)

French president Emmanuel Macron has convinced other EU countries to rein in employers’ ability to hire low-wage “posted” workers from Eastern Europe.

A majority of countries agreed this week to reform the Posted Workers Directive, which allows companies to temporarily “post” workers to another member state without abiding by its labor laws.

In future, such contracts will be limited to twelve months with an option to extend it for another six months at most.

Symbolic victory

French politics expert Arthur Goldhammer argues it is primarily a symbolic victory for Macron:

He can present himself as the defender of French workers against any “invasion” by the famous Polish plumber and his many comrades in the construction industry.

It also helps deflect left-wing criticism that Macron’s labor reforms only help big business.

Why it matters

The Posted Workers Directive affects less than 1 percent of the European labor force: around two million workers were posted in other EU counties in 2014. The biggest group works in construction.

But it has become a symbol for those who feel left behind by European integration.

The idea was to speed up the modernization of the former communist states that joined in the early 2000s, but it has also made low-skilled workers in Western Europe less competitive.

For Macron, reform is part of a broader effort to make the EU more responsive to the needs of its citizens.

East-west split

Given that Central and Eastern European workers benefit from the current system, their governments were resistant to change.

Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia previously endorsed Macron’s proposals, but he was unable to convince Hungary and Poland.

Hence the Financial Times cautions that Macron’s victory could come at the price of further damaging the EU’s strained east-west relations.