Macron stuck in pension reform war over EU demands

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The French President has been accused of “deliberately creating a major crisis in the country” after his government used the so-called 49.3 mechanism in the French National Assembly to pass a controversial pension reform.

“It is quite incredible that the government should use the 49.3. It shows that the government is weakened and has no majority either in the National Assembly or in society. This is a new ‘coup de force’, we are in the middle of a democratic crisis, the government is deliberately creating a major crisis in the country. This is very serious,” opposition senator Eliane Assassi blasted.

Macron’s calculated risk set off a clamour among French MPs, who began singing the national anthem even before Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne arrived in the lower chamber. She spoke forcefully over their shouts, acknowledging that Macron’s unilateral move will trigger quick motions of no-confidence in his government.

The fury of opposition MPs echoed the anger of citizens and workers’ unions. Thousands gathered at the Place de la Concorde facing the National Assembly, lighting a bonfire. As night fell, police charged the demonstrators in waves to clear the elegant Place. Small groups of those chased away moved through nearby streets in the chic neighbourhood setting street fires. At least 120 were detained, police said.

Similar scenes repeated themselves in numerous other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in the east to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed, according to French media. Radical leftist groups were blamed for at least some of the destruction.

Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, arguing that 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.

He decided to invoke the special power during a Cabinet meeting at the Elysee presidential palace, just a few minutes before the scheduled vote in France’s lower house of parliament, because he had no guarantee of a majority.

According to Generation Frexit leader Charles-Henri Gallois, the French President is “stuck” between his commitment to the EU and coming to terms with weeks of unrest in the country, as he will refuse to cave to unions’ demands.

He told “Any government in a normal and democratic world should be hit by a no confidence vote under these circumstances.

“73 percent of French people are against this pension reform.

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“They could not secure a majority to vote for this reform in Parliament. It’s hard to say if the no confidence vote will be tabled. Right-wing The Republicans MPs fear new parliamentary elections as it’s likely that they will lose seats. So they may not try a no confidence vote as Macron would threaten to go back to the polls.

“Nevertheless, I don’t think Macron will dare coming back to the polls as he will also risk loosing seats.

“The situation is quite stuck. Only the National Rally can rise a bit in new elections but it seems that they cannot get a majority either.

“The likely scenario is that a no confidence vote won’t work and it will be chaos in the streets.”

He continued: “Macron has triggered chaos in France with a reform which is an EU demand.

“It’s the direct consequence of our EU membership.

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“Otherwise, with the massive opposition in the polls and in the streets, he would have withdrawn this reform.

“But we are in the EU and he is stuck. He has to pass it whatever it takes.”

Mr Gallois predicted the French President will use protests and unrest to his advantage once French people will be tired of the chaos unravelling across the country, presenting himself as the “wall for order”.

A no-confidence motion, expected early next week, needs approval by more than half the Assembly. If it passes — which would be a first since 1962 — the government would have to resign. Macron could reappoint Borne if he chooses, and a new Cabinet would be named.

If no-confidence motions do not succeed, the pension bill would be considered adopted.

The Senate adopted the bill earlier Thursday in a 193-114 vote, a tally largely expected since the conservative majority of the upper house favoured the changes.

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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