French government defiant on pensions ahead of crucial votes

France's government on Sunday held its ground over a bitterly contested pension reform rammed through parliament without a vote, a day before it faces crucial no-confidence motions.

French government defiant on pensions ahead of crucial votes
France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne (L), flanked by France's Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt (2ndR) and France's Minister for the Economy and Finances Bruno Le Maire. Photo: Alain JOCARD/AFP

“There will be no majority to bring the government down, but it will be a moment of truth,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said of the two efforts to unseat the cabinet planned for Monday afternoon.

“I understand our countrymen’s fears and anxieties, but we will definitely not improve things by denying economic reality,” he told daily Le Parisien.

READ ALSO What does Monday’s no-confidence vote mean for Macron and France?

Monday’s two no-confidence motions have been filed by a small group of centrist MPs and the far-right National Rally.

Although President Emmanuel Macron’s camp has no absolute majority in the lower house National Assembly, it is the largest group and all of the opposition would need to unite for one of the votes to pass.

Most MPs from the conservative Republicans party are not expected to back a no-confidence motion.

Republicans chief Eric Ciotti wrote on Twitter Sunday that his constituency office had been pelted with rocks overnight.

“The killers who did this want to put pressure on my vote on Monday,” Ciotti wrote on Twitter, posting pictures showing smashed windows and threatening graffiti.

He has previously said that he would not “add chaos to chaos” by kicking the government out.

‘What do we have left?’

The government’s Thursday decision to resort to Article 49.3 of the constitution — which allows ramming a bill through parliament without a vote — has prompted anger in the streets after weeks of mostly peaceful protests and strikes against the plans.

Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt told the JDD weekly that “it’s not an admission of failure, but it’s heart-breaking” to have used the nuclear option to pass the reform.

Police on Saturday closed Paris’ Place de la Concorde opposite parliament for demonstrations following two successive nights of clashes.

Some 122 people were arrested as some set rubbish bins on fire, destroyed bus stops and erected improvised barricades around a 4,000-strong demonstration in the capital.

They made up the majority of Saturday’s 169 arrests nationwide.

Other demonstrations in cities around France had passed off peacefully, with hundreds turning out in the Mediterranean port city Marseille.

“What do we have left apart from continuing to demonstrate?” said Romain Morizot, a 33-year-old telecoms engineer, at the Marseille protest, predicting “social tensions” over the reform.

“There’s deep discontent, there’s a huge majority against this law, and we have a president who keeps moving forward and changing his arguments as he goes,” hard-left CGT union leader Philippe Martinez told broadcaster BFM Sunday.

People close to Macron told AFP that the president was “of course following developments” on the ground.

Refinery shutdown

Away from the streets of major cities, the CGT said Saturday that workers would shut down France’s largest oil refinery in Normandy, warning that two more could follow on Monday.

So far, strikers had only prevented fuel deliveries from leaving refineries but not completely halted operations.

Industrial action has also halted rubbish collection in much of Paris, with around 10,000 tonnes of waste now on the streets as the government forces some binmen back to work.

A ninth day of wider strikes and protests is planned for Thursday.

Macron’s reform raises the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 as well as increasing the number of years people must pay into the system to receive a full pension.

The government says the changes are needed to avoid crippling deficits in the coming decades linked to France’s ageing population.

“Those among us who can will gradually need to work more to finance our social model, which is one of the most generous in the world,” Le Maire said.

But opponents say the law places an unfair burden on low earners, women and people doing physically wearing jobs, and polls have consistently showed majorities opposed to the changes.

A survey of 2,000 people published in the JDD Sunday gave Macron an approval rating of 28 percent, its lowest since 2019’s mass “yellow vests” demonstrations against a new fuel tax.

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Planes, trains and service stations: What to expect in Tuesday’s French strike

Tuesday marks the 10th nationwide day of mass strikes in France in the ongoing battle over pension reform - here's a look at which services will be affected.

Planes, trains and service stations: What to expect in Tuesday's French strike

France’s eight union federations have called for workers to down tools in the 10th day of mass strikes called since the beginning of the pension battle in January.

Here’s what to expect;

Flights – the civil aviation authority has asked airlines to cancel 20 percent of flights going in and out of four airports, due to air traffic controllers striking. The affected airports are; Paris Orly, Marseille, Bordeaux and Toulouse, and it’s likely to be short-haul flights that are cancelled. Other airports may see knock-on effects including delays while flights going over French airspace may need to be re-routed. 

Trains – national and international train services will be “severely disrupted”, warned SNCF. In total 3 in 5 of the normal high-speed TGV services will be running and half of the local TER services. Passengers are advised to cancel or postpone their trip if possible. 

On the Eurostar two trains – one from Paris to London, the other London to Paris – have been cancelled. Other services will run as normal.

City public transport – in Paris, public transport operator RATP says that Metro services will be disrupted and the suburban RER trains ‘severely disrupted’ throughout the day, with a normal or quasi normal service on bus and tram lines.

Metro lines 1, 3bis, 7bis and 9 will run as normal

Line 2 will run as normal but only between 5.30am and 10pm

Lines 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12 and 13 will all be running limited services and all apart from lines 3 and 7 will be closing early in the evening.

RER lines 1 and B will be running half their normal services, but will be running all day, while services on the bus, tram and OrlyVal lines are described as normal.

In Marseille all Metro and bus lines will be running, but some with fewer services than normal, while in Nice transport bosses say services will be unaffected. In Bordeaux, there will be ‘light disruption’ to city services.

In Rennes, the Metro will run as normal while buses will see some disruption, while Lyon will see only slight disruption.

Tourist sites – several of Paris’ larger tourist sites will see limited opening times, including Versailles. On Monday, staff members blocked access to the Louvre.

Fuel shortages – more and more areas of France are reporting shortages of petrol (gasoline) and diesel at filling stations due to ongoing blockades at oil refineries. On a national level, around 15 percent of filling stations are reporting shortages, but in the worst affected areas around one in three stations are running dry.

MAP Where in France have blockades caused fuel shortages

Schools – teaching unions are also calling for strikes, so schools or classes across France may close – it is expected that between 20 and 30 percent of teachers will strike. In other areas, strike action by non-teaching staff may mean the cancellation of after-school clubs, or schools being unable to offer hot lunches.

Waste collection – in Paris there is still uncollected waste piled high on the streets in some areas. While some striking refuse collectors have been forced back to work, others in areas previously unaffected walked out over the weekend while blockades of certain waste depots continue. It is estimated that it will take at least another week to clear up all the uncollected waste.

Wildcards – more recent strike days have also seen a rising number of surprise or unannounced actions, including blockades at airports and rolling roadblocks on the roads. As the temperature of the dispute rises, don’t be surprised to see more of this type of action.

Demos – demos have been called in towns and cities across France, most matches setting off in the early afternoon. After trouble flared in several cities during marches last week, expect these to be tightly policed. 

In Paris, the march will begin at 2pm in Place de la République and head towards Nation It will pass by the boulevard Voltaire. During previous processions between these two sites, a secondary route passed through the place de la Bastille (or vice versa when the main route passed through Bastille). There will be road closures along the route and Metro stations close to the start and end points are also likely to be temporarily closed by police. 

More strikes – unions traditionally make announcements of further strikes or demos in the evening – keep up to date with all the latest with our strike calendar.