17 March 2023

Protests erupt in France over Macron’s retirement age push

17 March 2023

There have been protests in Paris against French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to force a Bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 through parliament without a vote.

They have disrupted traffic, rubbish collection and university campuses as opponents of the change maintain their resolve to get the government to back down.

Striking sanitation workers blocked a waste collection plant that is home to Europe’s largest incinerator to underline their determination, and university students walked out of lecture halls.

Leaders of the influential CGT union called on people to leave schools, factories, refineries and other work places.

Crowds gathered throughout the day Friday, halting cars along a Paris ring road and blocking university campuses.

Several groups, including the yellow vest activists who had mounted formidable protests against Mr Macron’s economic policies during his first term, called on the president’s opponents to march on the parliament at 6pm (5pm GMT) on Friday.

Union leaders are not the only ones angry about Mr Macron’s plan to make French citizens work for two more years before becoming eligible to collect full pensions.

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 make use of 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.

Overwhelming streets with discontent and refusing to continue working is “the only way that we will get them to back down”, CGT union representative Regis Vieceli told the Associated Press on Friday.

He added: “We are not going to stop.”

Mr Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, saying reform is needed to make the French economy more competitive and to keep the pension system from diving into deficit.

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 politicians want the government to step down.

If the expected no-confidence motion fails, the pension Bill will be considered adopted.

If it passes, it will spell the end Mr Macron’s retirement reform plan and force the government to resign, a first since 1962.

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

Mr Macron’s centrist alliance has the most seats in the National Assembly, where a no-confidence motion also requires majority support.

Left-wing and far-right politicians are determined to vote in favour.

Leaders of the the Republicans have said their conservative party will not back the motion.

While some party politicians might stray from that position, they are expected to be a minority.

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox