17 March 2023

Anger spreads in France over Macron’s retirement bill push

17 March 2023

Protesters have disrupted traffic in Paris as angry critics, political opponents and labour unions around France blast President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to force a Bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 through parliament without a vote.

Opposition parties are expected to start procedures later on Friday for a confidence vote in the government led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

The vote would likely take place early next week.

Mr Macron ordered Ms Borne on Thursday to wield a special constitutional power to push the highly unpopular pension Bill through without a vote in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.

His calculated risk infuriated opposition politicians, many citizens and unions.

Thousands gathered in protest on Thursday at the Place de la Concorde, which faces the National Assembly building.

As night fell, police officers charged the demonstrators in waves to clear the Place.

Small groups then moved through nearby streets in the chic Champs-Elysees neighbourhood, setting street fires.

Similar scenes repeated themselves in numerous other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in eastern France to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed, according to French media.

French interior minister Gerald Darmanin told the radio station RTL on Friday that 310 people were arrested overnight.

Most of the arrests, 258, were made in Paris, Mr Darmanin said.

The trade unions that had organised strikes and marches against a higher retirement age said more rallies and protest marches will take place in the days ahead.

“This retirement reform is brutal, unjust, unjustified for the world of workers,” they declared.

Mr Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, saying reform is needed to keep the pension system from diving into deficit as France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

Mr Macron decided to invoke the special power during a Cabinet meeting a few minutes before a scheduled vote in the National Assembly, where the legislation had no guarantee of securing majority support.

The Senate adopted the Bill earlier on Thursday.

Opposition politician said the government should step down.

If the expected confidence motion ends in a no-confidence vote, which requires approval from more than half of the Assembly, it will be a first since 1962 and force the government to resign.

Mr Macron could reappoint Ms Borne if he chooses and a new Cabinet would be named.

If the motion does not succeed, the pension Bill will be considered adopted.

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