Protests Continue in France After Macron Pushes Through Pensions Bill

Opposition parties filed two motions of no confidence against President Emmanuel Macron's government on Friday after its decision to push a hugely unpopular pensions bill through Parliament without a full vote, escalating friction with protesters and unions, who have vowed to do more. strike.

Mr Macron's decision, announced by his prime minister on Thursday during a raucous session in the National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament, angered opponents of the bill, which would have pushed back the legal age of retirement to 64, from 62.

Overnight, violent demonstrations broke out in several French cities, and protesters returned to the streets on Friday.

In Paris, for the second night in a row, thousands of mostly young protesters gathered in the Place de la Concorde, across the Seine from the National Assembly, chanting slogans such as “Macron, you're done, youth is on the way! ”

Danièle Obono, a legislator for the left-wing France Unbowed party, said Macron had achieved “a Pyrrhic victory, which continues to cause damage and precipitate crises instead of ending them.”

“This is a social crisis that has become a democracy crisis,” he said.

Under the rules of the French Constitution, the pension law will become law unless a motion of no confidence against the government passes in the National Assembly. On Friday afternoon, several opposition groups said they had agreed to support a motion of no confidence brought by a small group of independent MPs.

Mr Macron's opposition fragmentation in Parliament has often prevented him from rallying behind a single motion in the past, and motions put forward by independent MPs stand a good chance of attracting more support than usual.

“It's about serving our country by voting against these unfair and ineffective pension reforms,” ​​Bertrand Pancher, chief lawmaker in the independent group, told reporters. “It is about preserving our parliamentary democracy, which has been desecrated, and social democracy, which has been scorned.”

The far-right National Rally Party submitted its own motion on Friday, though it also said its lawmakers would vote for motions submitted by others. Votes for both motions are expected in the coming days, most likely on Monday.

Neither move is considered highly likely to succeed. Only one vote of no confidence has been approved in France since 1958, when the current Constitution was adopted.

The mainstream conservative Republican Party, while divided over support for the pension bill, has portrayed itself as a party of stability and order and has been loath to overthrow Macron's cabinet. Their support is essential to any part of the movement.

“We will never add chaos after chaos,” said Eric Ciotti, chairman of the Republican Party, said Thursday.

The Senate, the upper house of the French Parliament, passed the pension bill early Thursday. But fearing the highly controversial bill would not find enough support in the lower house, Macron decided to push through.

That has revived a months-long protest movement against pension fixes, which has also increased the number of years workers must pay into the system to earn full pensions.

“Type 49.3 encourages everyone,” Fabien Villedieu, leader of Sud-Rail, the national rail union, told news channel BFMTV on Friday, referring to an article of the French Constitution that allows Macron to push the bill through without a full vote.

In Paris on Friday, protesters from the CGT, or General Confederation of Labor, France's second-largest trade union, briefly blocked access to the périphérique, the thoroughfare that circles the French capital, where many roads are still marred by piles of garbage due to a scavenger strike. ongoing.

France's main trade unions, which have maintained a remarkable united front in the clash with the government, said they were more determined than ever, and announced they would hold a ninth day of protests and national strikes on March 23.

CGT also announced that strikers would close an oil refinery in Normandy over the weekend, potentially disrupting fuel deliveries to gas stations, and the teachers' union said they would strike next week during exam times.

That has fueled fears of a longer and more disruptive strike. The biggest strike so far has been focused on one easy day for the government, and people, to survive.

But rotational strikes, such as the scavengers' strike in Paris – the city said on Friday that by its 12th day, there were 10,000 tons of trash piled up in the streets – have hardened government attitudes, and could do the same to unions. response.

France's interior minister said on Friday he had asked Paris police authorities to get scavengers to clean up the trash, angering unions.

“Governments always start by saying they respect the right to strike, but that right is increasingly being questioned,” Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT, said Thursday.

“Until the last minute, my ministers and I did everything we could to unite the majority in this text,” Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne told TF1 television on Thursday. “With the President of the Republic, we want to have a vote.”


“Suggesting that everything can be paid for with debt is not serious,” he said.

Le Monde, one of France's leading newspapers, wrote in its editorial on Friday that “the lesson for the government and for Emmanuel Macron was striking,” as he had “no reliable ally” in the National Assembly which was “dominated by the extremes”, making the situation “unstable, flammable and dangerous”.

But by imposing the bill, Macron risks “fostering continued bitterness, or even sparking violence,” the paper added.

Violent overnight protests across the country raised fears that opponents of pension changes might turn to more radical or unexpected tactics.

At the Place de la Concorde on Friday night, protesters lit bonfires and used construction fences to build barricades across the line of police cars blocking access to the bridge leading to the National Assembly.

About 10,000 people had protested there on Thursday, in a largely peaceful demonstration that turned more violent as night fell. Later, riot police cleared the square, firing water cannon and tear gas at a small group of protesters who threw cobblestones and scattered into the neighborhood, starting a trash fire as they went. Other cities around France were also rocked by violent demonstrations overnight, including Rennes, Nantes, Lyon and Marseille.

Gérald Darmanin, interior minister, to RTL radios by Friday more than 300 people had been arrested across the country, mostly in Paris.

“The opposition is legitimate, the demonstration is legal,” said Pak Darmanin. “But not chaos.”

Lawmakers opposed to Macron are exploring other legal avenues to thwart his retirement plans, but it is highly uncertain whether any will succeed. Some have initiated procedures that allow MPs to initiate a referendum – an extremely long and complicated process that has never come to fruition before.

Others have vowed to oppose the new pension law, if approved, before the Constitutional Council, a body that reviews laws to ensure they comply with the French Constitution – mainly on the grounds that the government is incorporating pension changes into its social security budget and that some of which are not directly related to the budget.

But it's not clear how the council will ultimately rule, or which parts of the law might be overturned. So far, the government has expressed confidence that the core of the law will stand.

However, Boris Vallaud, a prominent Socialist lawmaker, said in the National Assembly on Thursday that all options were on the table to stop implementing the pension changes.

“We will do everything in our power,” he said.

Constant meheut reporting contribution.