By Leigh Thomas and Elizabeth Pineau
PARIS (Reuters) – The youngest, most ethnically diverse and gender-balanced parliament in France’s modern history held its first session on Tuesday as President Emmanuel Macron’s deputies, many of them political novices, got down to business.
Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party won a large majority in parliamentary elections this month, consolidating his presidential win in May. Like Macron, most LREM lawmakers had never previously held elected office.
About six years younger on average than the previous batch of MPs, the new lawmakers are also less male-dominated, with a record 223 women out of 577 deputies.
Ethnic minorities were also better represented: 35 lawmakers compared with 10 in the previous legislature, according to France 24 TV.
Lawmakers picked Francois de Rugy as speaker of the National Assembly, a role that influences parliament’s agenda.
In his opening speech to the assembly, De Rugy, a former Green politician who rallied behind Macron’s presidential bid, alluded to the record low turnout of less than 50 percent seen in the parliamentary election.
“For the first time in the Fifth Republic’s history, we were elected by a minority of French people,” he said.
“This gives us the responsibility to earn back the trust that decades of economic and social crises have eroded.”
Some items on Macron’s agenda of pro-business reforms are already facing resistance, in a country where unemployment has held above 7 percent since 1983.
Some trade unions staged protests near parliament to voice their opposition to Macron’s plan to relax France’s stringent labor code.
“I belong to the generation that built labor rights, but those rights are being damaged,” CGT union member Henri Renard told Reuters TV.
“Taking us back to the 19th century isn’t a good thing,” he said outside parliament.
The new lawmakers will face the first big test of Macron’s mandate on Wednesday when the government releases the first draft of its labor reform bill. They will vote on the bill over the summer in a fast-track procedure.
On Thursday, the public auditor will also give an update on the state of public finances.
Ministers have made no secret that they do not expect good news and anticipate broad spending cuts, blaming the previous Socialist-led government for letting finances slip in its last months in office.
France’s other parties, including the Republicans and the former ruling Socialists, have been left deeply fragmented in the wake of Macron’s successes, which have upset France’s political landscape.
Socialist Party head Jean-Christophe Cambadelis said on Twitter that fragmentation of the National Assembly into eight political groups was “a recipe for crisis”.
(Additional reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Louise Ireland)