Macron decrees pension reform in France amid protests

Emmanuel Macron failed a critical parliamentary test on Thursday and decided to override lawmakers to pass his unpopular plan to raise the retirement age, risking a political crisis and backlash on the streets.

The decision shows the government’s failure to convince opposition lawmakers to support the controversial reform to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, a central promise of President Macron’s re-election campaign.

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne announced the decision at a session of the National Assembly after meeting with Macron at the Élysée.

“We cannot take the risk of losing so many parliamentary working hours and not bet on the future of our pension system,” Borne told MPs as they booed and sang the national anthem. – This reform is necessary.

Borne triggered Article 49.3 of the French constitution, which allows him to pass the pension law by decree unless opposition parties unite to topple the government in a no-confidence motion in the coming days.

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Several opposition parties, including Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Movement, have said they are preparing such motions. If someone were supported by the majority, the government would fall and the law would not pass.

“This is a political crisis,” Le Pen said. “This is a complete failure for the government and for Emmanuel Macron personally, and the government must be sanctioned. He lost the trust of the assembly and the population.”

The Borne government has already survived several confidence votes because the opposition parties were not united enough to win a majority.

According to opinion polls, nearly three-quarters of the public is against raising the retirement age, and millions showed up at the demonstrations, not only in Paris and big cities, but also in small towns.

This week, a walkout by garbage collectors left 7,000 tons of trash on the streets of Paris, disrupted trains and flights, and shut down power generation by nuclear power plant workers.

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Macron argues that the change is needed to protect the viability of France’s pension system, which relies on current workers to fund pension payments, otherwise the deficit would grow as the population ages.

Unions remain opposed, arguing that changing the age limit unfairly hurts women and the least well-off, especially those who started work early without going to university.

Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT trade union confederation, who previously warned Macron against using clause 49.3, predicted a bigger backlash on the streets. “There will be new protests,” he told AFP. Shortly after Borne’s speech, hundreds of students marched out of the Sorbonne to protest in front of the National Assembly.

The agony of pension reform is a sign that Macron’s second-term agenda has been complicated by his party’s loss in June’s parliamentary elections. His centrist alliance has 250 representatives, so he needs to win over opposition politicians to reach 289 votes or convince some to abstain for a majority.

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The failure to pass the pension bill without using the 49.3 tactic is a blow to the president and raises questions about his ability to win cross-party support for further reforms he has promised on everything from immigration to climate change.

In the past few months, Borne has been courting the conservative Les Républicains, which has long supported raising the retirement age to 65 to fix public finances. He agreed with the leaders of the LR party, but a rebel faction formed in their group of 61 MPs, so the vote remained too close to call.

The government has now used clause 49.3 11 times during the parliamentary session, making it the second most frequent use of the tactic since 1958, the start of the Fifth Republic.