French President Emmanuel Macron is now facing intensified protests and a no-confidence motion in parliament. This comes after he pushed through a contentious pension reform without a vote in the lower house.
Despite two months of strikes and some of the biggest protests in decades, Macron’s government imposed the bill on 16 March to hike the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Prime minister Elisabeth Borne invoked article 49.3 of the constitution to impose the pension overhaul by decree, causing anger in parliament and moves to file a motion of no confidence in the government.
The situation presents Macron with one of his biggest challenges less than one year into his second and final mandate.
Jeers and boos
Macron put the pensions reform at the centre of his re-election campaign last year. The changes also seek to increase the number of years people have to work to receive a full pension. However, he lost his parliamentary majority in June after elections for the lower-house National Assembly.
As she invoked article 49.3, PM Borne told parliament:
We can’t take the risk of seeing 175 hours of parliamentary debate come to nothing.
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She was met with jeers and boos from opposition lawmakers. Borne has used the controversial constitutional loophole 11 times since becoming head of government last year. It means that a bill is then considered adopted unless lawmakers vote no confidence in the government.
The move amounted to an admission the cabinet lacked a majority in the lower house to make the changes. This was despite appealing to the right-wing opposition Republican party for support.
Several opposition parties, including the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) and far-right National Rally (RN) of Marine Le Pen, were set to call the no-confidence vote by the afternoon of 17 March.
Jean-Luc Melenchon of the LFI urged for “spontaneous rallies across the country”.
The move sparked furious demonstrations across the country. On the morning of 17 March, some 200 protesters blocked traffic on the ring road outside the capital.
Soumaya Gentet, a General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union member, said she was incensed and would continue to protest until the bill was revoked. She said:
They’re not taking into account what the people want.
Her colleague Lamia Kerrouzi agreed:
Macron doesn’t give a fig about the people.
He doesn’t understand the language of the people. It needs to be repealed.
In the energy sector, strikers are planning to halt production at a large refinery by this weekend or Monday at the latest. This was according to CGT union representative Eric Sellini. He also added that strikers are continuing to deliver less fuel than normal from several other sites.
Unions have called for another day of mass strikes and protests for next Thursday, 23 March. They’re branding the government’s move “a complete denial of democracy”.
According to polls, two-thirds of French people oppose the pension overhaul. Since January, trains, schools, public services, and ports have been affected by strikes against the proposed reform. A rolling strike by rubbish collectors in Paris has caused about 7,000 tonnes of trash to pile up in the streets. Additionally, thousands of protesters massed opposite parliament on the night of 16 March.
Police used tear gas and water cannon against protesters after a fire was lit in the centre of the Place de la Concorde. Meanwhile, similar scenes unfolded across the rest of France.
The ensuing unrest saw 310 people arrested around the country. This included 258 in Paris, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told RTL radio.
The head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, warned this week that Macron risked “giving the keys” of the presidency to far-right Le Pen at the next election in 2027. At that point, Macron himself will be barred from seeking a third term.Support us and go ad-free
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