French anger shifts from pension law to focus on Macron

The postponement of a state visit to France by King Charles III had become almost inevitable: the optics of President Emmanuel Macron dining with the British monarch at the Palace of Versailles as Paris burned was not only bad, it would have looked to a brazen provocation to blue-collar workers leading a wave of protests and strikes across the country.

These massive protests have changed in character over the past week. They became angrier and, in some towns, more violent, especially after dark. They focused less on the fury over raising the retirement age to 64 from 62, and more on Mr Macron and how he pushed the law through parliament without a full vote.

Finally, they have expanded into something approaching a constitutional crisis.

“We have gone from a social crisis on the subject of retirement to the beginning of a democratic crisis,” said Laurent Berger, the head of the French Democratic Confederation of Labour, the largest and most moderate union in France. in an interview. “The anger is rising, and in front of us we have a president who does not see this reality.”

Graffiti scrawled on the wall of a Paris building – “You elect me, I decide and you shut up” – summed up a growing view of Mr Macron as a top-down, dismissive leader beckoning to the people. Another — “Charles III, do you know the guillotine?” – captured how the now-cancelled royal visit led to confusion between the British king and a French president seen by his critics as monarchical.

France likes to dream of revolution, endlessly reproducing the popular uprising of 1789 which led to the guillotine of the king and queen and the abolition of the monarchy three years later. The country is certainly not on the verge of another transformative convulsion.

But the French seem to sense that Mr Macron has crossed a red line.

He imposed his desire to obtain a law that was never passed by the lower house of Parliament, at a time when polls showed that two-thirds of the population opposed the measure. His support has plunged to 28%, according to polls, the lowest since the start of the yellow vests social uprising in 2018.

Article 2 of the French Constitution stipulates that the principle of the Republic is “the government of the people, by the people and for the people”. Article 3 stipulates that “national sovereignty belongs to the people, who exercise it through their representatives and by referendum”.

But article 49.3, now used 100 times since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958 and 11 times by the government of Elisabeth Borne, the prime minister chosen by Mr Macron last summer, allows the government to pass a bill without a vote as long as it puts its own survival at stake in a parliamentary vote.

The government narrowly survived that no-confidence vote earlier this week.

Of course, a vote on a bill and a vote on the survival of a government are two different things. They carry a different weight.

Indeed, it is precisely because Mr. Macron judged that his bill raising the retirement age might not survive a vote, but that his government was more likely to do so, that he chose to use 49.3 top-down, seen by his critics as undemocratic.

It was a gamble, and the backlash was intense.

A blog hosted by Mediapart, an online investigative site, suggested that a more accurate version of Article 3 of the Constitution would be: “National sovereignty belongs to the people, who exercise it through their representatives and by referendum, except in exceptional cases”. where the will of the sovereign people is deemed inappropriate by the President”.

The growing rejection of the all-powerful presidency designed by Charles de Gaulle for the Fifth Republic, after the parliamentary chaos of the Fourth Republic, was stoked this week by Mr Macron’s uncompromising television interview.

He said in it that he “would not accept insurgents or factions” at a time when “the United States was experiencing what it was experiencing on Capitol Hill”.

Many people found Mr. Macron’s analogy between French protests against an unpopular law, which only escalated into violence in the past 10 days, and the storming of the Capitol in Washington in 2021 provocative. .

“What we have seen is the extreme verticality of Mr. Macron’s power,” said Mr. Berger, the union leader. “Our union would like to enter into a negotiation and reach a compromise, but for that it takes two.”

Since January, he said, he and his union had not been received by Mr. Macron, Ms. Borne or Olivier Dussopt, the Minister of Labor.

In the TV interview, Mr Macron also said he felt solemnly responsible for ensuring that the French pension system remained viable, arguing that this was impossible as working people were asked to support ever more pensioners living longer. a long time.

The overhaul, according to Mr. Macron, is essential for a stable and dynamic economy. Earlier economic reforms during his presidency led to a sharp drop in unemployment. Job creation and foreign investment have surged. The French tech sector has grown exponentially.

But much of France is now too angry to listen to Mr Macron’s economic lessons.

“More people are at a fighting point, and they don’t want to listen to the language of moderation,” said Guy Groux, a specialist in French trade unions at Sciences Po in Paris. “Protesters are splitting from the unions and taking to the streets all night.”

Another large demonstration and strikes have been called for next Tuesday, one of the reasons for the postponement of the British royal visit. With more than a million people on the streets on Thursday, according to the Home Office (union estimates were much higher), the protests show no signs of abating.

Mr Macron has not shown the slightest sign of a conciliatory gesture either.

“It is time for Mr. Macron to show empathy, to calm the spirits, to reassure people,” Mr. Berger said, calling for dialogue and a pause in law enforcement. “He needs to listen to the French heartbeat.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Berger added: “We have put people back at the center of life and have done incredible things. And now, suddenly, we’re back to where we were before. You can not do this. People want consideration, they want to be heard and they want to be protected.

So far, there are few signs of this from the government.

But, said Philippe Labro, a writer and political commentator, the last-minute cancellation of King Charles III’s visit suggested that “the centers of power are now afraid”.

Aurelien Breeden And Constant Meheut contributed report.

nytimes Eur

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button