Workers take part in a rally at the Saint-Charles train station BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/Getty Images

Macron’s Reform Train Will Not Be Derailed

French President Emmanuel Macron was elected with a clear mandate to reform the French economy, and he has not hesitated to target politically sensitive institutions such as the national railway. But if Macron acquiesces to ongoing protests by France's unions, the rest of his reform agenda will become vulnerable.

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron received plenty of praise in the international media for his recent speeches in Washington, DC, and Brussels. But for the French, what really matters is Macron’s management of domestic problems, of which there are many, not least rolling strikes by railway workers across the country.

Until the end of June, employees of the French state-owned railway company SNCF plan to strike for two out of every five days to oppose the Macron government’s planned reforms to the company. But the reforms are sorely needed. The SNCF’s operating costs are 30% higher than those of comparable railway systems in neighboring countries, and its performance is poorer.

The SNCF’s higher operating costs stem partly from flawed, politically motivated investment decisions made in the past. For example, there has been undue emphasis on expanding high-speed-rail networks at the expense of maintaining existing tracks that are still widely used.