Macron facing an angry France alone
PARIS — “We have a president who uses a permanent coup.” That was the verdict of Olivier Faure, the leader of France’s Socialist Party, after President Emmanuel Macron pushed through a bill raising France’s retirement age from 62 to 64 without a full parliamentary vote last night. last week.
In fact, Mr. Macron’s use of the “nuclear option”, as the France 24 television channel described it, was entirely legal under the French Constitution, drawn up in 1958 for Charles de Gaulle and reflecting the The general’s firm belief that power should be centered in the president’s office, not among embattled lawmakers.
But legality is one thing and legitimacy another. Mr Macron may see his decision as necessary to cement his legacy as a leader who left France ready to face the rest of the 21st century. But for many French people, it looked like a presidential diktat, a stain on his reputation and a blow to French democracy.
Parliament responded with two motions of no confidence in Mr. Macron’s government. They are unlikely to be confirmed in lawmakers’ vote next week due to political divisions within the opposition, but they are an expression of deep anger.
Six years after the start of his presidency, surrounded by brilliant technocrats, Mr. Macron looks like a loner, his haughty silence clearly visible in this moment of turmoil.
“He managed to upset everyone by occupying the whole center,” said Jacques Rupnik, a political scientist. “Macron’s attitude seems to be: After me, the deluge.”
That isolation was evident as two months of protests and strikes that left Paris littered with trash culminated on Thursday in sudden panic from a government that had believed the pension vote was a slam dunk. Suddenly, the Emperor’s doubts were exposed.
Mr. Macron thought he could count on center-right Republicans to vote for his plan in the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament. Two of the most powerful members of his government, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, come from this party. Republicans had advocated retirement even later, at age 65.
Yet, through a mixture of political calculation in light of the waves of protest and spite at the man who had undermined their party by building a new movement from the centre, they began to abandon Mr Macron.
Failing his pension overhaul was a risk that even Macron, the risk-taker, could not take. He opted for a measure, known as 49.3 after the relevant section of the Constitution, which allows certain bills to be passed without a vote. The retirement age in France will rise to 64, more in line with its European partners, unless the motion of no confidence passes.
But what would have looked like a defining victory for Mr Macron, even if the favorable parliamentary vote had been narrow, now looks like a Pyrrhic victory.
Four more years in power stretch ahead of Mr. Macron, with “Mr. 49.3″ stamped on his forehead. He was the dream of the French when he was elected at 39 in 2017; how he can do it again is unclear.
“The idea that we are not in a democracy has grown. It’s there all the time on social media, part conspiracy theory, part expression of deep anxiety,” said Nicolas Tenzer, an author who teaches political science at Sciences Po. that Macron just did feeds into that.”
The government spokesperson is Olivier Véran, also Minister Delegate for Democratic Renewal. There is a reason for this august title: a widely held belief that during the six years of Macron’s presidency, French democracy has eroded.
After the protest movement of the yellow vests erupted in 2018 against a rise in the price of gasoline but also an elitism that Mr. Macron seemed to embody, the president embarked on a “listening tour”. It was an attempt to get closer to the workers he had seemed dismissive of.
Now, nearly a year into his second term, that awareness seems distant. Mr Macron barely laid the groundwork for his pension measure even though he knew it would touch a deep French nerve at a time of economic hardship. His push for a subsequent retreat was top-down, accelerating at every turn and, in the end, ruthless.
The case for the redesign was strong. It wasn’t just for Mr Macron that retirement at 62 seemed untenable as lives grew longer. The math, at least in the longer term, simply doesn’t hold up in a system where the ratio of active workers to the retirees they support through their payroll taxes keeps falling.
But in an anxious France, with many struggling to pay their bills and unsure of their future, Mr Macron could not make the argument. In fact, he seemed to barely try.
Of course, the French attitude towards a powerful presidency is notoriously ambiguous. On the one hand, the quasi-monarchical office seems to satisfy some French desires for an all-powerful state – it is a French king, Louis XIV, who is said to have declared that the state was none other than itself. On the other hand, the presidency is felt for the extent of its authority.
Mr Macron seemed to grasp this when he told his cabinet on Thursday: “Among you, it is not me who is risking his place or his seat”. If the government falls in a vote of no confidence, Elisabeth Borne will no longer be prime minister, but Mr. Macron will remain president until 2027.
“A Permanent Coup”, said Mr. Faure, was also the title of a book that François Mitterrand wrote to describe de Gaulle’s presidency. This was before Mr. Mitterrand himself became president, and over time he enjoyed all the pomp and power of his office. Mr. Macron has shown himself no more impervious to the temptations of the presidency than his predecessors.
But times are changing, social hierarchies are falling and Mr Macron’s exercise of authority has sparked strong resentment in a flatter French society at a time of war-induced tension in Europe.
“There is a rejection of the person,” Mr. Tenzer said. The daily Le Monde noted in an editorial that Mr. Macron risked “fostering persistent bitterness, even triggering sparks of violence”.
In a way, Mr. Macron is a victim of his own remarkable success. His political gifts are such that he was elected to two terms – no French president had done so for two decades – and effectively destroyed the two political pillars of post-war France: the Socialist Party and the Gaullists. .
It is therefore felt by the center left and the center right, even though it is hated by the extreme left and the extreme right.
Now in his final term, he must walk a lonely road. He has no obvious successor and his Renaissance party is little more than a vehicle for his talents. This is the “deluge” Mr. Rupnik was talking about: a vast political vacuum looming in 2027.
If Marine Le Pen of the far right does not want to fill it, Mr. Macron the reformist must deliver the resilient and dynamic France for which he believes that his highly contested reform was an essential foundation.