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France

PAYE, missing minister - Macron faces tough return to work

media French President Emmanuel Macron visits a secondary school in Laval on Monday Fuente: Reuters.

French President Emmanuel Macron marked the start of a new political season on Monday with a visit to a school in eastern France. But he faces two urgent tasks on his return to Paris - finding a new environnment minister and deciding whether a planned changeover to PAYE taxation will go ahead at the beginning of next year, as planned.

The start of the new school year coincides with the return to political normal, with all its challenges, squabbles and media hoohas.

There is no shortage of those this autumn and, with the latest opinion poll showing his popularity ratings at the lowest since he was elected, Macron faces testing times.

Desperately seeking environment minister

Over the weekend he spoke to Green Daniel Cohn-Bendit to discuss whether the one-time radical student leader-turned-Euro-MP might replace Nicolas Hulot, who resigned as environment minister last week without bothering to warn the president or the prime minister he was going to do so.

But Macron and Cohn-Bendit concluded "by common consent" that it was not really a good idea, leaving the president still searching for someone to handle what is supposed to be one of his government's key concerns.

Cohn-Bendit had some suggestions - Laurence Tubiana, the head of the European Climate Foundation, and Pascal Canfin, the president of WWF France - but the search was continuing Monday.

The MEP told LCI televisions that Hulot called him for an agonised discussion at the beginning of last month, telling him that he could manage to work with Macron but not with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

Cohn-Bendit also said hints were dropped about him heading the pro-Macron list of candidates in next year's European elections.

PAYE pandemonium

Macron has to tackle another thorny issue on Tuesday - whether French taxpayers will go over to deduction at source, like most developed economies, in January next year, as originally planned.

He is to meet Philippe and Public Accounts Minister Gérald Darmanin to discuss whether to postpone the changeover after a week of mixed messages from government ministers.

The measure has already been put off once but both the president and the prime minister seemed to be having their doubts as to whether it would reach its second deadline over the last few days.

The reason why was revealed by Le Parisien newspaper at the weekend - dummy runs by the ministry and employers, both public and private, resulted in thousands of mistakes.

They would have meant some people paying tax twice and others paying for different people of the same name.

Although he himself seemed to be wavering during the week, Darmanin dismissed Le Parisien's revelations as concerning a tiny percentage of the millions of French taxpayers and insisted that everything is ready to go on the technical side.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said he hoped the change would go ahead on schedule "as long as we have the technical guarantees" and assured BFM-TV that political considerations would not affect the decision on the date.

That was a response to Socialist former budget minister Christian Eckert, who told Libération newspaper the government was frightened that voters seeing less on their payslips and pension statements would hurt their parties' chances at the European poll.

Where's that growth?

In the longer term Macron's credibility faces a major challenge because his promises of economic revival have so far failed to materialise.

The tax cuts for businesses and top taxpayers, which earned him the reputation of being a president of the rich in some quarters, have failed to deliver the promised spurt in growth - after a rise to 0.7 percent in the last two quarters of 2017, it was only 0.2 percent in the first two quarters of 2018.

French consumers' buying power has also failed to take off as promised and unemployment remains stubbornly high, falling just 0.1 of a point in the first quarter of the year.

So, with unions threatening more strikes and protests and the opposition ready to pounce, Macron and his allies may be facing a tough autumn.

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