Seen as pro-business, France's Macron tacks left at UN body

French President Emmanuel Macron called for an EU-wide minimum wage and a stepped-up fight against inequality, returning to his left-leaning political roots as critics try to paint him as overly pro-business

GENEVA -- French President Emmanuel Macron has called for an EU-wide minimum wage and a stepped-up fight against inequality, in what represents a return to his left-leaning political roots as critics paint him as overly pro-business.

In a speech Tuesday to the U.N.'s main labor body, Macron alluded to the protests by the yellow vest anti-government movement in France that has shaken his balancing act as a promoter of business with roots in the Socialist Party — which he abandoned to set up his own centrist party.

"France has gone through very difficult crisis in the last few months, which I have personally experienced as a type of opportunity," Macron said in a speech that appeared largely targeted to a domestic audience that has questioned his bona fides as a center-left leader.

The yellow vest movement, which has challenged Macron, has faded in recent weeks. The movement started in November, when close to 300,000 protested around France. Violence and rioting then took over the protests, damaging the movement for more economic justice — and putting his government on the defensive.

At the centennial conference of the International Labour Organization, Macron said he supported efforts to reduce inequality between women and men in the workplace, strike a minimum wage across the European Union, and ensure that no more international trade deals contribute to "economic and labor dumping."

In a bid to show he was listening to his critics, Macron said it was the failures of leaders "that lead to the success of the extremes" and warned that a crisis has put the world's democracies "on the brink of war if we don't watch out."

He insisted that his centrist government had at times come up with "the right responses," but acknowledged that they had appeared too distant for many French people.

Macron was joined by heads of state and government including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Many addressed threats to traditional jobs posed by automation and artificial intelligence and called for more multilateralism to address global problems.

Medvedev warned that the global order was under threat and lamented the negative impact of "illegal sanctions, protectionism and trade wars." It was a not-so-veiled reference to the United States, which is on the cusp of a trade war with China and has slapped crippling sanctions on Iran. The U.S. is represented in Geneva beneath ministerial level.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was set to speak later at the ILO meeting, with the ongoing Conservative leader expected to focus on the fight against modern slavery and highlight some accomplishments under her tenure — which has been largely overshadowed by her inability to strike a Brexit deal with the European Union.


Harriet Morris in Moscow, Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Dorothee Thiesing in Geneva contributed to this report.