French Pension Reforms Spark Outcry Amid Macron’s Leadership
French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday faced escalating protests and allegations of authoritarian rule after he imposed a controversial pension reform without parliamentary approval.
Using a special constitutional power to pass legislation without a vote was an admission that the government lacked a majority to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, a change that met strong resistance across the country.
The Senate adopted the bill earlier on Thursday, but the reluctance of right-wing opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly to side with Macron means the government faces defeat in the lower house.
“We can’t risk seeing 175 hours of parliamentary debate come to fruition,” Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne told MPs as she announced the move, to jeers and jeers from opposition MPs who sang the national anthem.
Aurelin Brady, an MP for the right-wing opposition Republican Party, said the government’s move “risks a democratic rupture in this country”.
“We have a problem with democracy. This law – which will change the lives of French people – was adopted without the slightest vote in the National Assembly,” Brady told BFM TV.
Trains, schools, public services and ports have been affected since January by strikes against the proposed reform, amid some of the largest protests in decades.
An incessant strike by garbage collectors in Paris caused some 7,000 tons of rubbish to accumulate in the streets, attracting rats and displeasing tourists.
On Thursday, thousands gathered outside parliament to protest the government’s move.
“I feel outraged by what’s happening. I feel like I’ve been cheated as a citizen,” said Laurie Cartelier, a 55-year-old educator.
“In a democracy, this should have been done by voting.”
At around 8:00 pm (1900 GMT), police used tear gas and water cannon to clear protesters after a fire was started in the center of the historic Place de la Concorde.
Even after the demonstration was dispersed, some demonstrators set fires and damaged shop fronts on side streets, according to AFP correspondents.
By 11:30 p.m., Paris police said 217 people had been arrested on suspicion of seeking to cause damage.
Similar scenes unfolded across France. Several shops were looted during the protests in Marseille, while clashes broke out between demonstrators and security forces in the cities of Nantes and Rennes in the west as well as Lyon in the southeast, according to AFP correspondents.
Labor unions and political analysts have warned that adopting the legislation without a vote — by invoking Article 49.3 of the Constitution — threatens to radicalize opponents and undermine the law’s democratic legitimacy.
“It is a complete failure of the government,” Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right, told reporters. “From the outset, the government has deluded itself into thinking it has a majority.”
According to opinion polls, two-thirds of the French oppose the pension amendment.
Some opposition parties, including Le Pen’s, are due to call a vote of no confidence in the centrist government on Friday, but Burney’s government is expected to survive thanks to Republican support.
The unions immediately called for another day of strikes and mass protests for next Thursday, calling the government’s move a “total denial of democracy”.
Antoine Prestel, a public opinion expert at the Jean Jaurès think tank, told AFP that the enactment of such an important law without a parliamentary vote risks further hostility to the country and deepening anti-Macron sentiment.
Opinion polls show that nearly eight out of ten people oppose legislation in this way, while a growing number of people are losing faith in French democracy, he said.
As tensions mounted, the head of the ruling faction in parliament, Aurore Berg, wrote to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin to ask him to ensure the protection of MPs, according to a letter seen by AFP.
the country’s future
After trying and failing to push pension reform during his first term, Macron returned to the issue while campaigning for re-election last April.
But he lost his parliamentary majority in June after the National Assembly elections.
Despite the day’s high drama, Macron did not comment publicly on the matter on Thursday.
“You can’t play with the country’s future,” said a participant in a closed cabinet meeting Thursday morning, justifying the move.
The political implications of imposing a reform that most of the population opposes are uncertain.
CGT union boss Philippe Martinez warned this week that Macron risks “giving the keys” to the presidency to Le Pen in the next election in 2027 when Macron is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
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