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Macron on the brink: how the French pensions revolt could ruin his presidency

PoliticsWorld PoliticsMacron on the brink: how the French pensions revolt could ruin his presidency
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PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron will face a moment of reckoning on Thursday as lawmakers prepare for a final vote on the government’s deeply unpopular pension reform.

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The controversial bill, a centerpiece of Macron’s second term, is sparking weeks of nationwide protests led by trade unions and has faced intense criticism from both the far left and the far right in the National Assembly.

France’s president wants to raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 and expand contributions to the full pension in an effort to balance the accounts of France’s state pension system – one of the most generous in the world. According to French estimates Pension Planning CouncilThe finances of the pension system are balanced in the short term but will run into losses in the long run.

Despite government concessions on various aspects of the bill in recent weeks, opposition to the reform remains high, with polls saying two-thirds of French citizens oppose it.

Speculation is running high that Macron may not have enough support in the National Assembly, and may choose a constitutional maneuver to bypass parliament – a move that could spark a political storm in France.

A crucial vote is expected on Thursday on the second reading of the bill by the French Senate and National Assembly, after the Senate voted in favor last week. The result will determine the shape of Macron’s second term and weigh heavily on his legacy.

Worst-case scenario: Macron loses vote in parliamentTea

Losing the parliamentary vote would be a stunning defeat for the French president, who bid for a second term On his promises to reform France’s pension system. But political commentators have been speculating in recent days that Macron’s Renaissance party does not have enough votes to pass the bill.

The French president lost his absolute majority in the National Assembly in the parliamentary elections held last June. He has since been forced to make ad hoc deals with lawmakers from France’s conservative party Les Républiques. But the once-powerful Conservatives appear divided over the reform, despite assurances from their leader Olivier Marleux this week that there was a “clear majority” of support for the bill.

A defeat in parliament would have seismic and long-term consequences for Macron’s second term, and the president’s trusted lieutenant Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne would likely have to resign in such a scenario. However, veterans of the party say that they will not shy away from seeking votes.

Aurore Berge, leader of the Renaissance group in the National Assembly, said, “There will be a vote, we want a vote, everyone must take their responsibilities.”

“There could be an accident … we will manage it as we can,” acknowledged Jean-Paul Mattei, a centrist lawmaker belonging to Macron’s coalition, in reference to the defeat in parliament.

However, this is the most unlikely scenario as there are expectations that the government will bypass a vote if they feel they are short on votes.

Demonstrators hold an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron during the 8th day of a nationwide strike and protest against the government’s proposed pension overhaul in Paris on March 15, 2023. Alain Jocard/AFP via Getty Images

Too bad: Macron bypasses parliament and loses credibilitywhy

In the face of a possible defeat in the National Assembly, Macron has a nuclear option: invoke Article 49.3 of the French constitution. This mechanism allows the government to force it through legislation without having to submit it to a vote.

While the constitutional maneuver may seem like an easy way out, it is a highly risky move as it allows lawmakers to introduce a no-confidence motion within 24 hours. Macron’s government has faced no-confidence motions in the past, but this time the stakes are much higher.

Besides surviving a motion of no confidence, Macron and Borne will also come under fire for refusing to submit to the democratic process.

According to Frédéric Dabi, general director of the IFOP polling institute, if the government were to use Article 49.3 to oppose passage of a tough vote in parliament, the effect on public opinion would be “radically different”.

“Public opinion on article 49.3 has changed … it is perceived as a tool to brutalize the National Assembly: it is now seen as authoritarian rather than merely official. People today want more transparency, more want democracy.

No doubt the radical unions in France will use this to incite unrest and further strike action.

Trade union leader Laurent Berger has warned the government against using Article 49.3, saying it “will”unreliable and dangerous,

Dabi said, “Nobody can predict what will happen, the protest movement seems to be running out of steam, but if the government invokes Article 49.3 then it can be read as forcing the issue and the protest The movement can be resumed.”

Still not great: Macron wins vote but faces massive opposition

If the French president wins the vote in parliament, it will be seen as a victory, but a victory that could completely erode his political capital, and spark protests in the streets.

“It will be a victory for Macron, but it will only bear fruit in the long term. In the short term, he will face a tense country where relations have become very strained,” said Chloe Morin, an author and political analyst.

Trade union leader Berger has said he will “accept” the result of Thursday’s vote in parliament. But protests, which have been almost weekly since January, could still continue across the country to force the government to try and retract the text.

Morin thinks there is unlikely to be an “explosion of protests” following the vote as people are resigned to seeing it pass.

GettyImages 1248236061
French police officers intervene during a protest by local council workers against the government’s retirement reform in front of the prefecture in Seine Saint-Denis in the Paris suburb of Bobbin on March 14, 2023. Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

“However, the protest movement can be more radical, with power outages or subversion led by a minority in the citizens’ movement,” Morin said.

In October last year, industrial action at French refineries led to shortages at petrol stations across the country, forcing the government to intervene in what has been described as the biggest challenge since Macron’s re-election last year. Was seen.

There are dangerous precedents for Macros too. In December 2019, the government was forced to drop a new green tax in the face of explosive yellow vest protests that rocked the political establishment.

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