President Emmanuel Macron forced through his unpopular plan to raise the French retirement age by executive fiat after failing to rally a majority of the French people or their representatives in parliament, underscoring the difficulty he’ll have enacting any other domestic policies during his remaining time in office.
(Bloomberg) — President Emmanuel Macron forced through his unpopular plan to raise the French retirement age by executive fiat after failing to rally a majority of the French people or their representatives in parliament, underscoring the difficulty he’ll have enacting any other domestic policies during his remaining time in office.
The move will likely provoke unions to use bottlenecks in the French economy — such as garbage collection or refinery operations — as they continue striking to try to compel the government to roll back the legislation.
The pension bill, which raises France’s minimum retirement age to 64 from 62, was debated in France’s parliament for six weeks before it became clear it didn’t have enough votes to pass. Not only does this mean that goals such as migration and employment reform may now be out of Macron’s reach, but it’s also created a more hostile legislative environment.
France’s two leading opposition leaders, who both did well in last year’s presidential election and subsequently saw the president lose his absolute majority in the National Assembly, were quick to attack the government.
Leftist firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon told BFM TV that the lack of a vote removes any legitimacy from the pension bill. Marine Le Pen of the far-right demanded Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s immediate resignation and blasted what she called “Macron’s total failure.”
Even the head of the conservative Republicans party, Eric Ciotti, who backed the reform, criticized the decision to bypass a final parliament vote, calling it “a method that wasn’t appropriate.”
At least three political groupings, including Melenchon and Le Pen’s, vowed to request a vote of no confidence in the government, which could take place in the coming days and, if passed, would nullify the pension bill and cause the government to fall. But such a result is unlikely since Ciotti said the Republicans wouldn’t support the motion.
This would still leave the opposition with other options to derail the reform, such as requesting a review by the constitutional court or a public referendum, which could delay the bill becoming law for months.
Even if the legislation survives these hurdles, the dynamics at play show how difficult it will be for Macron to push through his next reforms, including an upcoming labor revamp.
“The government is coming out of this much weaker,” said Melody Mock-Gruet, an expert in parliamentary affairs. “Even if Borne survives a no-confidence vote, a government reshuffle will become inevitable.”
Still, the secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Mathias Cormann, urged Macron to press ahead.
“Having gone this far, I’m sure the government in France will, and I would suggest they should, stay the course and see this through,” he said at a news conference in Paris on Friday.
The decision to bypass the lower house of parliament is further angering unions that had already vowed to continue fighting against the reforms. Moments after Thursday’s announcement, thousands of people joined a surprise protest near the National Assembly in Paris, prompting police to use water canon to try to disperse them.
“Dialogue doesn’t work with Macron so the only option left is radicalizing the protests,” said Julien L., a 23-year-old student who joined the gathering. “The government lives in a bubble, and it should watch out for when it bursts because it will be painful for them.”
Philippe Martinez, the head of the hardline CGT union, said the strikes must escalate, including the walkout by garbage collectors, which has left many sidewalks in Paris impassable. Unions called for further local action this weekend followed by another day of nationwide strikes and protest marches next Thursday.
In the course of the past week and a half — since trash collectors went on strike in parts of Paris and other cities — uncollected garbage has become the most visible and increasingly malodorous symbol of workers’ resistance to the pension plan.
(Updates with comment from OECD’s Cormann in 11th paragraph.)
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