Macron faces pressure amid violent pension protests
On Friday, March 17, French President Emmanuel Macron faced the gravest challenge to his authority since the so-called Yellow Vest protests, when his intention to force through a controversial pension reform without a vote sparked deadly rioting overnight.
During largely peaceful evening rallies involving several thousand people in Paris and other French cities, automobiles were burnt. Friday, trade unions urged workers to take action and briefly stopped the Paris ring road.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, a leader of the extreme left, stated, “Something fundamental occurred, and spontaneous mobilizations erupted immediately across the nation. It goes without saying that I encourage them; I believe this is where the action is taking place.”
The pension reform raises the retirement age in France by two years to 64, which the government deems necessary to prevent the system from failing.
Unions and the majority of voters disagree.
The French are quite adamant about maintaining the official retirement age of 62, which is among the lowest in the OECD.
According to a survey conducted by Toluna Harris Interactive for RTL radio, more than eight out of ten people are displeased with the government’s decision to forego a vote in parliament, and 65 percent want strikes and protests to continue.
Proceeding without a vote “is an attack on democracy… In Paris, Nathalie Alquier, a 52-year-old psychologist, stated that there is a complete denial of the recent events on the streets. It’s just terrible.”
A wide alliance of France’s largest unions stated that they would continue to mobilize in an effort to reverse the amendments. On Friday, demonstrations were held in places including Toulon, and more were scheduled for the weekend. A fresh nationwide day of industrial action is slated for March 16th.
The turmoil overnight was reminiscent of the Yellow Vest rallies that erupted in late 2018 over high fuel costs and compelled Macron to make a partial U-turn on a carbon tax.
Later on Friday, opposition members will file resolutions of no confidence in the legislature.
Even if Macron lost his absolute majority in the lower chamber of parliament in last year’s elections, there was little chance this would pass — unless an unexpected alliance of Lawmakers from all sides, from the far left to the extreme right, was created.
Conservative Les Republicains party leaders have rejected out such an alliance. Some LR members stated that they would break ranks, but the no-confidence motion would require the support of all opposition MPs and a majority of LR to pass, which is unlikely.
Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg, stated, “French governments have historically prevailed in such votes of no confidence.”
He anticipated the similar outcome even if “by attempting to circumvent parliament, Macron has already weakened his position.”
Parliamentary votes were likely to occur over the weekend or on March 20.
Macron will seek to quickly turn the page, with government officials already preparing measures with a greater emphasis on social justice. He may also choose to dismiss Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who has been in the center of the pension discussion, at some point.
But either or both of these actions may do nothing to soothe the rage on the streets.
Someone had written on a storefront during Thursday evening’s disturbance, “Let’s demolish what destroys us.”