President Emmanuel Macron’s government has been rife with problems for some time now, but the people of France have been largely okay with waiting until the next election to get him out. Then about two months ago, the idea of raising the retirement pension age from 62 to 64 came about.
People across France have debated its merits and what it would mean for them. Vicious political debates and strikes were waged in protest of the idea. Suddenly, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne invoked article 49:3 of the constitution- a move that would allow the government to skip over the vote in the Assembly. This decision came just moments before Members of Parliament were to begin their vote, and with no guarantee of it getting the majority, Borne thought it was the best idea.
People jeered, sang La Marseillaise in response to her actions, and held up signs of protest inside parliament. Leftist party La France Insoumise (LFI) leader Mathilde Panot fired off tweets about Macron’s decision to plunge the government into crisis mode without gaining the support of parliament or popular legitimacy. Thousands of people took to the streets of France, many waving trade union flags and singing the national anthem. The crowd in Place de la Concorde made the BLM protests look tiny.
Much like a BLM protest, the people grew more restless as the sun set and ultimately clashed with the police. Fires were lit throughout the city, with one squarely in the middle of Place de la Concorde. In response, police brought in mounted units, shields, and batons, and broke out tear gas as they moved to clear the square. As of nightfall, 120 people were arrested, according to police figures.
Despite the arrests, unions have vowed to hold the line and continue their protests in opposition to the pension changes. Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) announced that they would have more extensive protests and marches on March 23rd.
Considering how Macron was elected on promises to change retirements but lacked any traction in parliament, he would have needed Republican party support to enact any of the changes he campaigned on. While they knew some of their MPs could abstain or vote against it to save face as the bill proved unpopular, they resorted to special constitutional powers. While the action of Prime Minister Borne is incredibly foreign to the US, it is one of the cornerstones of French politics.
The invocation of 49:3 is always seen by the French as their ruler overtaking the will of the people. In over 60 years, it has only been used precisely 100 times, and it has been used across the spectrum of French politics. It has been used more frequently when the Prime Minister lacks the numbers to get something through parliament, like Borne now or Michel Rocard in the 1980s.
With the now open door by the opposition to go to a vote of no-confidence, there are several ways this could work out for the French people. Should that be voted through, the entire French government would, in essence, collapse. It would also require the far-right, left, and conservative opposition to unite and vote as one voice.
Described by opponents as “brutal,” “inhuman,” and “degrading,” it’s no wonder the people of France are against it. With morale lower than it is here in the US, many French see retirement as the feint light on the horizon they can fight through working towards. They now see this as the rich man ran government taking away that light and hope for the future.
If nothing else, the US should consider this an example of what we need to avoid. As it is, social security here in the US is already a joke. Politicians have squandered it on bad investments and embezzling schemes. Despite the fund being somewhat depleted, leftists want to give it away to illegals who never paid in on it and watch the Americans suffer through working till they die. While the age is still “officially” 65, many are forced to wait till 67 or older due to a lack of liquid funds.