Protest in France: “Day of Rage” and no confidence in the Parliament against raising the retirement age

Protest in France: “Day of Rage” and no confidence in the Parliament against raising the retirement age

Back when he was first elected, French President Emmanuel Macron promised the French “Jupiterian actions”, named after the head of the gods. He shelved most of them, softened others, but in recent weeks, a year into his second and final term, the French president decided to promote “at all costs” one of the reforms closest to his heart – the extension of the retirement age in France from 62 to 64.

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Now, the massive public reaction against this plan and against the way it was enacted – from the population, from the media and from the powerful trade unions of France – endangers his government and threatens to eliminate the remnants of public support that he still has left.

“We have to work harder”

Almost every night in recent nights, Paris has experienced violent clashes. Trash cans were burned, barricades were set on fire. Thousands of police were sent to the streets, and confronted anti-reform protesters. The demonstrations and protests move between central squares in the French capital, and the police used gas grenades, batons and increased forces to deal with the more extreme elements in them. More than 500 people were arrested in Paris, and dozens more were arrested in other protest centers across France. The violent protestors are only The minority among the majority of the French public, who reject the reform that Macron is trying to shove down their throats, have taken to the streets by the millions in recent weeks for peaceful demonstrations.

Apparently, the picture should be clear to the French. They work the fewest hours per week (35 hours). They are the people who retire almost the earliest on the continent (at the age of 62 officially, 60.5 in practice). They are the nation that has the most years of pension – 23 for men and 27 for women. All these elements, together with a minimal population growth rate of 0.3% per year, and faltering growth, make the current French pension model quite distinctly unsustainable. France’s current pension model will be nuclear in the next decade, and it threatens to deepen the national debt. A government accounting body estimated that the number of workers per pensioner in the country has already dropped from 2.1 in 2000 to 1.7 in 2020. According to forecasts, the rate will be only 1.2 in 2070.

French life is indeed pleasant, but not very promising in the long run, the economists estimate. And this is also what Macron thinks. “We must work more,” Macron said before Christmas, when he launched his unpopular initiative – to gradually increase the retirement age to 64 in several steps until 2030. He intends to exclude and allow early retirement for those who started working at a young age and those who work in abrasive professions. And in addition, increase pension benefits.

President of France, Emmanuel Macron / photo: Associated Press, christophe Simon

Under the auspices of the constitution: to govern without a majority in parliament

Apparently, Macron’s political situation makes the passage of the reform with broad support almost impossible. The people did indeed elect him president for a second term in April 2022, but two months after you also denied the majority that his party had in parliament, and fled to the extremes, the extreme right and the extreme left. Since then Macron has effectively ruled without a majority in parliament. Now, “his insistence on passing the reform without talking to the workers’ organizations is proving to be a mistake,” wrote the newspaper “Le Monde” yesterday.

In fact, France’s influential trade unions have banded together for the first time in a decade to stage anti-reform demonstrations, stage disruptions and coordinate popular public protest. It started with the “Days of Rage”, which brought millions of French people to the streets. In the last few days, in preparation for what was supposed to be a vote in the parliament on Thursday – they announced a “rolling strike” – which will be decided every evening anew in consultation with the heads of the unions.

But then came the scheduled vote in Parliament, and the surprise prepared by Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne for the people. It turned out that, fearing a loss in parliament, the government decided not to put the issue to a vote at all. Due to France’s semi-presidential regime, there is a clause in the constitution (49.3, which became notorious following the events of the last few days), which allows the government to pass the decision as it is. A kind of presidential decree. This clause has become the main governing tool of a president with a government without a majority in parliament. This is how, for example, the annual budget of France also passed – without the support of the parliament. The current government has used it 11 times so far.

The announcement of the use of this clause was the signal for public outrage the likes of which France has not experienced in many years, at least since the “Glowing Vests” riots a year before Macron took office in 2018. Two motions of no confidence in the government were submitted and came up for discussion this evening (Monday). Bourne’s government is shaking.

What did not help the popularity of the reform was the fact that it came after a year of sharp price increases in France, which eroded the already short fuse of the French public regarding the political system. The price index last month showed an increase of more than 7.2% compared to last year, and food became more expensive. In addition, the topic of retirement is “sacred” to the French in an unusual way in the European Union.

Polls revealed that 70% oppose the proposed reform. Macron’s popularity, which was already suffering from low percentages of support, has now dropped to only 28%.

The unions are threatening to shut down the republic

In his second and final term, Macron may have nothing to lose personally, but he may leave a scorched earth in his wake in French politics, having crushed the old system by pushing to the center and establishing a new movement (“The Republic is on the move!”). The extreme right and the extreme left both defined the reform as “inhumane”. These may win public sympathy in the next election.

In the first vote of no confidence that took place tonight, the government appointed by Macron barely survived. To overthrow it, the opponents needed 287 votes in the parliament. In the end, the left-wing coalition (“Nupes”, 151 seats) together with the far-right representatives of the “National Union” (88 seats) and an all-political group called LIOT (20 seats) as well as representatives from the center-right “Republicans” (they have 61 Moshavim) voted in large part in favor of no confidence, and gathered 278 votes in favor of overthrowing the government, only nine from overthrowing it. The second no-confidence vote is currently underway, but the government is also expected to survive it.

Now, if the votes of no confidence do not pass, then the reform will be accepted as language and become law. There are those who criticize the move to such an extent that they call for a change in the French system of government, which gives presidential powers but at the same time also a lot of power to the parliament.

In any case, the trade unions have promised to fight the law even if it passes, and even intensify the fight to make the government withdraw it. Meanwhile, train traffic in the country is disrupted. Canceled flights. Ferries are delayed. Refineries were closed following the decisions of the trade unions, and a shortage of fuel may be felt within a few days. The teachers threaten to disrupt the matriculation exams. The garbage workers went on an Italian strike, and are working at 20% full time. The next “Day of Rage” is planned to take place this Thursday, and it is expected to bring a record number of protesters to the streets.


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