Listen to this article France Circumvents Parliament On Pensions, Sparking Protests In Paris
Police in Paris clashed with protesters on Thursday, March 16, after President Emmanuel Macron decided to force through his controversial pension reform without calling a vote in France’s lower house of parliament. The move sparked thousands of people to protest the decision on the streets of Paris and other French cities.
Protests in Paris
In Paris, protesters gathered at the Place de la Concorde, outside of parliament, lighting a bonfire to symbolize their anger at the decision. The police deployed tear gas and water cannon to clear the area, yet despite being dispersed, some protesters persisted in setting fires and vandalizing shop fronts in side streets. The police detained at least 217 individuals.
Macron’s Constitutional Power
Macron used a constitutional power enabling the government to bypass lawmakers. The government made the decision just a few minutes prior to the scheduled vote since they had no assurance that the bill would secure a majority in the National Assembly. French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told parliament as she invoked article 49.3 of the French constitution, facing jeers from the left-wing opposition, which also loudly sang the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, in protest.
Reactions from Opposition Leaders
The move drew criticism from both the far-right and far-left. “It’s a total failure for the government,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen told reporters, adding that Borne should resign. “From the beginning the government fooled itself into thinking it had a majority,” she said. Socialist Party chief Olivier Faure said, “When a president has no majority in the country, no majority in the National Assembly, he must withdraw his bill.” Far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon said the pension reform text had no parliamentary legitimacy. “It is a text which has no legitimacy,” he said. “This government is not worthy of our Fifth Republic, of French democracy,” said Fabien Roussel, head of the French Communist Party.
Senate Approval and National Assembly’s Opposition
The Senate’s approval of the bill on Thursday with a 193-114 vote was the final vote on this package of reforms, or very similar ones, as the government sought to pass the bill through the legislature. Although the conservative majority of the upper house of parliament supported an increase in the retirement age, it was predicted that the National Assembly would reject the bill. This led Macron to invoke his constitutional power.
Macron’s Justification for Pension Reform
The pension reform bill seeks, among other things, to raise the standard retirement age from 62 to 64, and is a flagship policy for President Macron. He had previously failed to implement similar reforms during his first term and had abandoned the plan altogether due to the COVID pandemic. However, Macron argues that the changes are necessary to keep one of western Europe’s most generous pension systems solvent.
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