France protests: Why is Macron pushing to raise the retirement age?


Large-scale protests broke out in several French cities after President Emmanuel Macron’s government pushed through a controversial pension bill without a key vote in parliament, escalating a long-brewing crisis.

In Paris on Thursday evening, police used tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators gathered in the Place de la Concorde. In Nantes, western France, riot police confronted protesters who set trash cans on fire, photos and videos shown Demonstrations were also reported in Toulouse, Marseille and Lyon.

Around 217 people have been detained in Paris, French TV station BFM reported. Representatives of a dozen unions announced a mass protest for March 23, the hardliners CGT union said. Some of the members of this syndicate blocked entry points in Paris on Friday morning, local media reported.

The pension law, which raises the minimum retirement age by two years to 64, has roiled the European nation. Macron insisted the age increase was necessary to ensure the survival of France’s generous pension system, but millions took to the streets as strikes closed schools and public transport and littered the streets.

Now its passage – through a constitutional power that allows the executive branch to push bills through the National Assembly – has fueled public anger. Opposition lawmakers have threatened a no-confidence vote that could oust Elisabeth Borne, Macron’s appointed prime minister.

Here are some key things to know about the dispute.

The French government’s plan raises the minimum retirement age by two years, so most people will have to be 64 – and have made a certain amount of social security – before they can get a full state pension.

Macron said the increase was necessary to reflect changing demographics. For example, life expectancy in France has increased by about three years over the past two decades. If the retirement age remains fixed at 62, there will be just 1.2 taxpayers to support each pensioner in 2070, down from 1.7 in 2020, government figures show.

Striking French workers argue they want ‘laziness’ right

France already spends more on pensions than many other wealthy European countries. State pension spending was equal to 13.6 percent of its economy in 2021, compared with about 10 percent in Germany and nearly 11 percent in Spain, according to the OECD. Macron’s plan would boost the country’s pension system by 2027 to $19 billion, Reuters reported.

But opponents say the measure will disproportionately affect workers who are more likely to start work at a younger age than their white-collar counterparts. (People in certain occupations that are considered physically or mentally demanding will still be eligible to retire early with a full pension.)

Macron’s government invoked Article 49.3 of the constitution, which allows the executive to push bills through the National Assembly, the lower house of the legislature, without a vote. (The Senate had already passed the pension bill.) The clause was drafted in the late 1950s as part of an effort to strengthen France’s executive power, which Charles de Gaulle believed was hampered by the then-powerful legislature power.

The article has been used at least 88 times by various governments and critics see it as an anti-democratic measure.

Macron’s party and its partners do not have an absolute majority in the National Assembly and are only able to pass legislation in that chamber by forming temporary alliances or encouraging lawmakers from other parties to abstain. With the government using Article 49.3, the opposition has 24 hours to table a vote of no confidence against Bourne, whose cabinet requires the support of the National Assembly.

Macron raises France’s retirement age without vote, sparking backlash

Macron was elected by voters for a second five-year term, so his position as president will not be directly affected if the parliamentary vote of no confidence passes. But it would force the resignation of his chosen prime minister and significantly undermine his authority.

Many analysts do not believe the no-confidence vote will pass because the opposition is split between left, far-right and center-right parties.

Rick Noack in Paris contributed to this report.

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