French protest over Macron forcing through pension reform

People took to the streets across France on Saturday after President Emmanuel Macron imposed an unpopular pension overhaul without a parliament vote.

French protest over Macron forcing through pension reform
A protestor holds a flare in front of riot police during strikes and protests across France against the government's proposed pensions overhaul. Photo: LOIC VENANCE/AFP

Macron’s government on Thursday invoked a controversial executive power to force through the bill by decree, which is legal according to the constitution.

The move has caused outrage among the political class as well as angry protests in the street, presenting the 45-year-old leader with one of his biggest challenges less than a year into his second and final mandate.

The president has since Thursday not made any public comments on the bill to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 or the ensuing popular discontent.

A source within his circle however told AFP on Saturday evening that he was “following developments”.

Police on Saturday banned gatherings on a key Paris square opposite parliament after two nights of unrest at the site, but protesters still rallied for a march in another part of the capital.

Among them, a 55-year-old woman, who only gave her surname as Allemand, said she was there because she couldn’t wait until she was 64 to retire.

“I’m already exhausted,” said the public health sector employee. “I sit in front of a computer screen all day. My eyes hurt, my head hurts and I’ve already had two blood clots.”

‘Fed up’

Many also demonstrated in other towns and cities around the country on Saturday after regional unions called for a weekend of protests.

Ariane Laget, 36, was among some 200 people demonstrating in the small southern town of Lodeve.

“We’re fed up. We feel like we’re being trampled on and no one is listening,” she said.

Thousands took to the streets in the western city of Nantes.

“Death to the king,” read one placard, in an apparent reference to the president.

Tensions escalated slightly in the afternoon in Nantes as some protesters lobbed bottles at member of the security forces who retaliated with tear gas, an AFP photographer said.

In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, an AFP photographer saw trash containers ablaze.

Unions have called for another day of nationwide strikes and rallies on Thursday.

Opinion polls have shown around two-thirds of French people oppose the reform, which will also require people to work longer for a full pension.

The government has said it is necessary to avoid the system from slipping into deficit, and bring France in line with its European neighbours where the legal retirement age is typically higher.

But critics say the changes are unfair for people who start working at a young age in physically challenging jobs, and women who interrupt their careers to raise children.

No-confidence vote

In parliament, opposition lawmakers have filed two motions of no confidence in the government, which are to be debated on Monday afternoon according to parliamentary sources.

They hope to garner enough support to topple the cabinet and repeal the law. But Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s government is largely expected to survive any no-confidence vote.

The motion would need backing from around half the group of opposition right-wing Republicans, a scenario seen as highly improbable.

Saturday’s protests follow two previous nights of unrest. Thousands of people rallied in Place de la Concorde opposite parliament on Friday evening to vent their frustration.

Groups of people threw bottles and fireworks at the security forces, who responded by firing tear gas to try to clear the square. Police said they made 61 arrests.

In the eastern city of Lyon, demonstrators tried to break into a town hall and set fire to the building, said police, who reported 36 arrests.

Trash strike

Protests since mid-January have garnered some of the largest crowds in decades, but the popular movement seemed to be starting to wane in the days before the government imposed the bill.

The capital’s municipal rubbish collectors have however kept up a rolling strike, leaving an estimated 10,000 tonnes of trash festering in the streets by Friday.

A union representative on Saturday said strikers at three incinerators outside Paris would let some garbage trucks through “to limit the risk of an epidemic”.

Police said trucks from five depots had resumed work.

In the energy sector, the CGT union has said strikers were halting production at two refineries over the weekend.

Unions from national train operator SNCF on Friday urged workers to continue another continuous strike.

Macron put the pension reform at the centre of his re-election campaign last year.

But the former banker lost his parliamentary majority in June after elections for the National Assembly.

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France court to rule on Macron pension reform on April 14th

France's highest constitutional authority will rule on President Emmanuel Macron's controversial pension reform on April 14th, it said on Wednesday, a verdict decisive for the future of the changes.

France court to rule on Macron pension reform on April 14th

The reforms were passed by parliament on March 16 after the government used a mechanism to bypass a vote by MPs,  inflaming nationwide protests.

They were considered adopted by parliament when the government survived two no confidence motions on March 20.

But the reforms can only come into law once they are validated by the Constitutional Council, which has the power to strike out some or even all of the legislation if deemed out of step with the constitution.

The council’s members — known as “les sages” (“the wise ones”) — will give two decisions when the ruling is made public on the legislation, whose headline measure raises the retirement age from 62 to 64.

The first will be on whether the legislation is in line with the French constitution.

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And the second will be on whether a demand launched by the left for a referendum on the changes is admissible.

In line with government practice for contentious new laws, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne asked the council to rule on the changes on March 21.

But leftwingers in the lower house National Assembly and upper house Senate also asked the council for a ruling, as did far-right MPs in the lower house.

If a referendum was ruled admissible, backers would need to get the signatures of a tenth of the electorate — almost five million people — for it to be called.

The president of the council is Socialist Party grandee Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister who also served as finance minister and foreign minister in his long career.

Its verdict will be a critical juncture in Macron’s battle to impose the legislation, which has seen 10 days of major strikes and protests since January, most recently on Tuesday.

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New clashes between police and protesters erupted in a movement that has been marked by increasing violence since the government used the constitution’s Article 49.3 to bypass a parliamentary vote and pass the legislation.

Unions have announced a new day of strikes and protests on April 6, just over a week before the council’s decision is announced.

“The absence of a response from the executive has led to a situation of tensions in the country which seriously worries us,” the unions said on Tuesday.