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France protests: why is Macron forcing an increase in the retirement age?


French politics remained in turmoil over the weekend, after President Emmanuel Macron’s government imposed a controversial pensions bill without a key vote in parliament, deepening a long-simmering crisis.

Opposition lawmakers filed multiple demands for votes of no confidence on Monday, which could topple the government led by Macron-appointed Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. On Friday evening, the opposition still seemed to lack the number of votes needed to bring down Borne and his government.

But there were also growing concerns about the impact of Macron’s decision on social peace in the country. Demonstrations erupted in several French cities on Thursday evening and continued throughout the weekend.

The unions are planning a new round of national mobilization next Thursday.

The Pensions Act, which raises the minimum retirement age by two years to 64, has rocked the European nation for weeks. Macron has insisted the rising age is necessary to ensure the survival of France’s generous pension system, but millions have taken to the streets, while strikes have closed schools and public transport and that heaps of rubbish have accumulated in the streets.

Here are some key things to know about the controversy.

On Thursday night in Paris, police fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters gathered in Place de la Concorde. In Nantes, western France, riot police clashed with protesters who set trash cans on fire, showed photos and videos. Demonstrations were also reported in Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon.

More than 300 people were arrested and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin described the clashes as “chaos”.

Mujtaba Rahman, managing director for Europe of the Eurasia Group, said there could be more violent clashes. “The fact that [Macron] now effectively imposing a top-down change that I believe will reinforce and further exacerbate those risks,” he said on Thursday.

In another sign that the protests were not slowing down, union members blocked major access roads into Paris on Friday morning, ahead of another night of protests that turned violent. Thousands of people danced and lit a bonfire in Place de la Concorde, before clashes broke out between protesters and police. More than 60 people were arrested in Paris and 36 in Lyon on Friday, French media reported.

Police on Saturday banned protests around Place de la Concorde and the Champs-Élysées in Paris, Agence France-Presse reported. Yet thousands of angry citizens took to the streets on Saturday in the capital and in cities like Nantes and Brest. The protests were largely peaceful, but some protesters set trash cans on fire or threw fireworks at police, who responded with tear gas, according to photos and videos.

In photos: second day of violent protests rocks France after pension overhaul

Some union leaders have warned of the potential for broader, grassroots social unrest reminiscent of the Yellow Vest movement, which sparked weekly protests and frequent confrontations with riot police for a year and a half before restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic does indeed kill the movement.

Far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a key opponent of the increase in the retirement age, said such “spontaneous mobilisations” were a “fundamental” new development in the resistance. “It goes without saying that I encourage [the protesters],” he said.

Representatives of a dozen unions have announced a massive protest for March 23, the hardline CGT union said.

The French government’s plan raises the minimum retirement age by two years, so most people will need to be 64 – and have paid a certain amount of social security contributions – before they can receive a full pension from France. ‘State.

Macron said the hike was necessary to reflect changing demographics. For example, life expectancy in France has increased by about three years over the past two decades. If the retirement age were to remain at 62, there would be just 1.2 taxpayers to support each pensioner in 2070, down from 1.7 in 2020, according to government data.

French strikers dispute they want a right to ‘laziness’

France already spends more on pensions than many other wealthy European countries. State pension spending accounted for 13.6% of its economy in 2021, compared to around 10% in Germany and almost 11% in Spain, according to the OECD. Macron’s plan would beef up the country’s pension system by 2027 to the tune of $19 billion, Reuters reported.

But opponents argue the measure will disproportionately affect blue-collar workers, who are more likely to start working at a younger age than their white-collar counterparts. (People employed in certain occupations considered physically or mentally demanding will still be allowed to retire early with a full pension.)

Retirement is a cherished time in French life, and many consider work-life balance a cornerstone of French culture. France has a long tradition of labor and social rights, and perceived attempts to infringe on these fundamental values ​​tend to stir up unrest.

A previous pension reform plan, presented by Macron in 2019 and later abandoned, sparked the longest strike in more than half a century in France, with transport stoppages causing widespread disruption. In 1995, the then government was forced to abandon its reform plan in the face of mass protests.

The Macron government has invoked Article 49.3 of the constitution, which allows the executive to force bills through the National Assembly, the lower house of the legislature, without a vote. (The Senate had already passed the pensions bill.) The clause originated in the late 1950s as part of an effort to strengthen French executive power, which Charles de Gaulle felt was crippled by a then powerful legislature.

The article has been used at least 88 times by different governments and critics see it as an anti-democratic measure.

Macron’s party and its partners do not have an absolute majority in the National Assembly and can only pass laws in this chamber by forming temporary alliances or encouraging lawmakers from other parties to abstain.

Macron raises retirement age in France without vote, causing backlash

Macron was elected by voters to a second five-year term, so his position as president would not be directly affected if a parliamentary censure passes. But that would force the resignation of his hand-picked Prime Minister and significantly taint his authority.

Many analysts do not believe the vote of no confidence will pass as the opposition is fragmented between left, far-right and center-right parties.


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