Macron’s leadership is at risk amid tensions over pension plans

PARIS — On protest signs and online in France, a parody photo shows President Emmanuel Macron sitting on piles of garbage. On the one hand, this is a reference to the sanitation workers in Paris going on strike over uncollected garbage, and on the other hand, to what many French people think of their leader.

Macron had hoped that his push to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 would cement his legacy as president who reshaped France’s economy for the 21st century. Instead, he is questioning the leadership in parliament and on the streets of big cities.

His brazen move to push through the pension reform bill without a vote has angered the political opposition and could prevent his government from passing legislation in the remaining four years of his term.

Demonstrators held up the parody photo at protests after Macron made a last-minute decision on Thursday to pass the bill in Parliament without a vote, citing the government’s constitutional authority.

In his first public comment on the subject since then, the 45-year-old leader wants the bill to “reach the end of its democratic journey in an atmosphere of respect for everyone,” according to his statement on Sunday. bureau provided to the Associated Press.

Since becoming president in 2017, Macron has often been accused of arrogance and being out of touch. He was seen as the “president of the rich” and drew ire for telling an unemployed man he had only to “cross the street” to find work and suggesting that some French workers were “lazy”.

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Now Macron’s government has alienated citizens “for a long time” by using special powers under Article 49.3 of the French constitution to introduce a widely unpopular change, said Brice Teinturier, deputy director general of pollster Ipsos.

He stated that the only winners in the situation are the far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her National Rally party, “which will continue the strategy of ‘becoming respectable’ and fighting Macron,” as well as the French unions. Le Pen was Macron’s runner-up in the country’s last two presidential elections.

As the garbage piles get bigger and the smell gets worse, many in Paris are blaming Macron, not the striking workers.

Macron has repeatedly stated that he is convinced that the French pension system needs to be modified to preserve funding. He said other proposed options, such as increasing the already heavy tax burden, would discourage investors and cutting pensions for current retirees was not a realistic alternative.

Publicly expressing your displeasure can seriously affect your future decisions. The spontaneous, sometimes violent protests that have erupted in Paris and across the country in recent days contrast with the mostly peaceful demonstrations and strikes previously organized by major French unions.

Macron’s re-election for a second term last April strengthened his position as Europe’s senior player. He campaigned on a pro-business agenda, promised to resolve the pension issue and said the French “must keep working”.

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In June, Macron’s centrist alliance lost its majority in the lower house of parliament, although it still holds more seats than other political parties. He said at the time that his government wanted to legislate “in a different way”, based on compromises with a number of parliamentary groups.

Since then, conservative lawmakers have agreed to support some bills that fit their own policies. However, tensions over the pension plan and a lack of trust between ideologically different parties may put an end to attempts to find a compromise.

Macron’s political opponents in the Parliament submitted two no-confidence motions against Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s government on Friday. Administration officials hope to survive a vote on the motions scheduled for Monday because opposition is divided and many Republicans are expected not to support it.

However, if a motion is passed, it would be a major blow to Macron: the pension law would be rejected and his cabinet would have to resign. In this case, the president must appoint a new cabinet and his legislative power must be weakened.

Above all, Macron hopes to propose new measures aimed at reducing France’s unemployment rate to 5 percent from the current 7.2 percent by the end of his second and final term.

If the no-confidence motions fail, Macron could introduce a higher retirement age, but is trying to appease his critics with a government reshuffle.

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Either way, Macron would keep his job until his term expires in 2027 and would retain significant powers over foreign policy, European affairs and defence. As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, France can decide on support for Ukraine and other global issues without parliamentary approval.

France’s strong presidential power is a legacy of General Charles de Gaulle’s desire for a stable political system in the Fifth Republic established in 1958.

Another option in the hands of the president is to dissolve the National Assembly and call early parliamentary elections.

This scenario seems unlikely for now, as the unpopularity of the pension scheme would make Macron’s alliance unlikely to win a majority of seats. And if another party wins, it must appoint a prime minister from the majority faction, authorizing the government to implement policies different from the president’s priorities.

Le Pen said she would welcome a dissolution.

And Mathilde Panot, representative of the left-wing Nupes coalition, sarcastically stated on Thursday that it was a “very good” idea on Macron’s part to dissolve the assembly and call elections.

“I think it would be a good time for the country to confirm, yes, they want to lower the retirement age to 60,” Panot said. “Nupes is always available to govern.”


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