France is in turmoil after French President Emmanuel Macron rammed through a bill raising the retirement age without a vote, leading to protests, strikes, and violent unrest in Paris and across the country.
France is in turmoil after French President Emmanuel Macron rammed through a bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a vote, leading to protests, strikes, and violent unrest in Paris and across the country.
- Macron used a special procedure to push his deeply controversial pension reform through the National Assembly without a vote, which ensures the bill will become law after weeks of protests and polarized debate in the legislature.
- The French government claims the reforms are necessary to ensure the survival of the French pension system, but the decision to skip a vote has allowed the left-wing and far-right opposition forces and leaders of trade unions to cast the reform as an attack on French democracy.
- Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne used article 49:3 of the French constitution to force through the measure minutes before the assembly was due to vote, evidently because the government feared it would lose.
- Protesters converged on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. A fire was lit in the middle of the plaza as police used batons and tear gas to clear the square. More than 120 people have been arrested so far.
- Sanitation workers have blocked Europe’s largest incinerator, university students have walked out of classes and union leaders have called on citizens to leave their workplaces and join the protests. Several groups are calling for a march on the French parliament scheduled for later Friday.
- Cars have been torched in Paris and in cities across the country as thousands of protesters have taken to the streets. A recent poll found more than 80% of French voters are unhappy with the decision to ram through the measure without a vote, and 65% want strikes and protests to keep going.
- French unions are promising strikes and demonstrations will continue into next week, with another major strike planned for Thursday, March 23, according to the leadership of the CGT union, which has led the opposition to pension reform.
- Macron’s government is expected to face a vote of no confidence early next week. A successful vote of no confidence would bring down the Macron government, kill the pension overhaul and likely lead to new elections. Macron’s party does not have a majority in the National Assembly, and would require support from the center-right Les Republicans to survive.
- One left-wing opposition lawmaker decried Macron’s decision to jam through the reforms as a “Pyrric victory, one that continues to cause harm and that is accelerating… a social crisis that has become a democratic crisis,” according to the New York Times. The no-confidence vote represents the opposition’s only chance of stopping the reform before it automatically becomes law, despite the lack of a vote.
- Politico wrote Macron’s decision revealed him to be an “uncompromising and weakened leader who now faces severe backlash from emboldened opposition lawmakers and protesters.” The decision to invoke article 49.3 “is widely seen as a perilous move for the government as it allows MPs to put forward a motion of no-confidence within 24 hours and risks radicalizing protest movements.”
- The Guardian explained why pensions are such an explosive political flashpoint in French politics. The French government pension system “is seen as the cornerstone of the country’s cherished model of social protection,” and a model of “solidarity between the generations” that ensures all French workers get a state pension. France has the lowest retirement age of any major European economy.
- The Wall Street Journal reported the far-left NUPES coalition led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the far-right bloc led by Marine Le Pen both plan to support a vote of no-confidence, but it’s unclear whether enough centrist lawmakers will join the fringe groups to bring down the government.
- According to Fox News, Macron “has put his legacy on the line” with his pension reform legislation. The reform is key to Macron’s plan to make the French economy more globally competitive and to shore up the country’s pension system for future generations.
- Per the New York Post, the atmosphere in the French capital is tense as heavily armed security forces and riot police have fanned out to protect the National Assembly from the growing crowds. An estimated 500,000 French citizens joined protests on Wednesday, and those numbers are only expected to grow.
© Dominic Moore, 2023