La rentrée politique, coinciding with the re-opening of Parisian bars and restaurants after the long summer break, is traditionally the time when French Presidents seek to assert themselves and get things done, all the more so if they have just recently been elected.

Emmanuel Macron, if we are to believe his most recent rhetoric, intends to overcome his country’s notorious aversion to reform by presenting it as a revolution, more substantive than 1968, less bloody than 1789 or 1871.

He may get his way and he may not. The French like revolutions , but only if they don’t happen too often and things get back to normal afterwards. It’s the drama they like, not the change.

For Macron, presiding over the least experienced government in France since the Committee of Public Safety that introduced the Reign of Terror, the problem is two-fold. He needs ministers and deputies who know what they are doing, and the will to do it, and he needs to overcome the resistance of the trade unions and other interested parties for whom more always means less.

Macron himself, his personal body politic soothed by €26,000-worth of unguents, is raring to go. He has spent the summer consulting with himself and others on what precisely has to be done and how to set about it. The question is, can his ministers and the National Assembly deliver the goods?

The cabinet, led by prime minister Édouard Philippe, previously the mayor of Le Havre, is largely made up of newbies who last year flocked to the Macroniste En Marche movement, since reconstituted as La République en Marche. Leavening the mix are a handful of former Socialists and ex-Conservatives, but for the most part those in charge are novices, full of bourgeois idealism, short on experience.

The same applies to the National Assembly. Of the 577 deputies, elected in June, 310 are members of En Marche, most of whom never previously held public office. If you can imagine a House of Commons in which 375 of the MPs were from the one-time SDP, led by David Owen, you will have some idea of the parliament’s ideological make-up.

But needs must. Macron both designed and marketed his bed and now he must lie on it. On the domestic front, he plans to “free up the energy of the workforce,” an ambition less tosserish than it sounds given that productivity in France is the seventh highest in the industrialised world – below the U.S. (and Ireland), but better than Germany and way ahead of the UK, which languishes in 15th place, fractionally above Italy and Spain.

It is said that a French worker gets as much done by Thursday afternoon as a Brit by the time he heads off to the pub on Friday evening. So the problem is not a genetic reluctance to do the job; rather it is that the system as it stands suits them very well and they see no reason to change it. The claim – advanced by every President since Jacques Chirac – that the state cannot afford to keep them in the style to which they have become accustomed is seen by the unions, and millions of other citizens, as just an attempt to introduce Anglo-Saxon attitudes into La France Profonde.

The good news is that the two biggest unions, the Democratic Federation of Labour (CFDT) and Force Ouvrière, while harbouring serious doubts about Macron’s proposed reforms, are not as yet calling on their members to take to the streets. They are keeping their powder dry as they wait to see how the programme unfolds. Other unions have announced days of protest, beginning late this month, backed by the neo-Marxist leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who did surprisingly well in the first round of the Presidential elections in April. It is unclear what stance will be adopted by Marine Le Pen’s Front National, whose political advance was brought to an abrupt halt by Macron, but her capacity to cause trouble should not be overestimated.

Many in the labour movement are expected to join the street protests as a reflex, regardless of what their leaders say. Some at least of the army of the unemployed – still some 9.8 per cent of the workforce – may well join them. Their message will be, “Be careful, do not try our patience”. In response, the President and his ministers, though they must appear determined if they are to retain credibility, will be reluctant to push too hard too early.

It is not as if the Extreme Centre, as represented by En Marche, is hoping to achieve the revolution overnight. Macron may be Thatcherite by conviction, but he is Blairite in his approach, meaning, perhaps, that the stilletto, rather than the bludgeon, will be his weapon of choice. The President is not without his ruthless side, as witness his humiliating dismissal of the chief of the defence staff, General Pierre de Villiers, for daring to speak out against cuts in the military budget. But he is also aware that if he oversteps the mark, the French will exact their revenge.

According to the opinion polls, Macron is already less popular than his predecessor, François Hollande, which looked inconceivable in the heady days that followed his election. The French accord great respect to intelligence and education. They love nothing more – apart from Johnny Hallyday – than a public intellectual. But, like the British, they do not appreciate a smarty-pants, and the jury may already have returned its verdct on that score.

The actual programme of reform – “Rediscovering Our Spirit of Conquest to Build a New France” is ambitious, but not overly so. It­ plans to break the shackles of the 35-hour week not be abolishing it, but by making it subject to negotiation, linked to changes in the rates for overtime. It also aims to make it easier for small and medium-sized companies, freed from the constraints of nationally-agreed compacts, to lay off workers and to introduce greater flexibility into the negotiation of pay and conditions.

The public sector – everything from healthcare to the railways and from public utilities to the civil service (which on its own employs nearly 20 per cent of the active population) is another frontline issue. Over the decades, it has congealed into a monumental ponzi scheme, paying out trillions more than it contributes to the economy by way of taxation and earnings. François Fillon, the former Conservative leader, presently obliged to spend more time with his lawyers fighting charges of corruption, proposed a cut of half a million public sector jobs, mainly in the citvil service. Macron’s target is a more modest 120,000. But even that number could produce blood on the streets.

Beyond butting heads with disaffected workers, the new occupant of the Elysée has vowed to reset Europe, revitalised by Franco-German leadership. Post-Brexit, he wants the EU to close ranks and to agree on far-reaching reforms, including a recognition that freedom of movement does not mean a race to the bottom in terms of social regulation. “Social dumping,” he says, must end. Poorer members states cannot be allowed indefinitely to exploit the wealth and generosity of their richer neighbours.

David Cameron must be spinning in his political grave.

In the meantime, Macron has undertaken to cut France’s bloated budget deficit to below 3 per cent of GDP – a requirement of the European Commission traditionally honoured in the breach rather than the observance. How the sans-culottes will feel about that if it means five years of austerity remains to be seen.

As August moves into the rear-view mirror, the motorways of France will be thronged with workers and their families heading back from th coast to embark on a year of uncertainty. Their mood is unclear. The new President and his cohorts only appeared to achieve landslide victories in this year’s elections. Though they won a thumping majority, the reality is that the defeated candidates of right and left secured an aggregate result in excess of that achieved by En Marche. In that disparity and in the shadow that falls between the motion and the act, lies the danger. Macron has to hope that he can hold his nerve, depend on his supporters and hope that the unions don’t go for his jugular.