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Pension reform spirals into crisis for Macron

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-20 09:21

A protester holds a placard reading "It's no" during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde after the French government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote, using the article 49,3 of the constitution, in Paris on March 16, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

Protests continued in the streets of Paris and in locations across France on Sunday in opposition to the government's decision to raise the state pension age without a parliamentary vote.

A third night of violence between protesters and police erupted in central Paris on Saturday, as security forces clashed with crowds and garbage bins were set on fire in a level of unrest not seen since the 2018 Yellow Vests protests, which broke out over high fuel prices.

The Agence France-Presse news service reported authorities had banned protests near the National Assembly building in Paris on Saturday following successive nights of clashes that erupted after France's Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne announced the intention to push the pension bill through without a vote on Thursday.

More than 80 people were arrested at a 4,000-strong Paris demonstration on Saturday and 15 were held in the southern city of Lyon after police said "groups of violent individuals" sparked clashes, according to Media reports. Peaceful marches took place in other French cities, including Marseille, Montpellier and Nantes.

France's President Emmanuel Macron's leadership is now under threat after political opponents in the National Assembly submitted two votes of no-confidence in the government on Friday.

"This retirement reform has no social, popular or democratic legitimacy," the motion from the centrist bloc of lawmakers known as the Liot group said.

"The vote on this motion will allow us to get out on top of a deep political crisis."

A vote on the confidence motions is set for Monday, though liberal-conservatives in the Republicans Party are expected not to support it, reported the Associated Press.

If the motion of no-confidence were to pass, the pension bill would be rejected, Macron's Cabinet would have to resign and the president would need to appoint a new administration, noted the AP.

When Borne approached the National Assembly's podium on Thursday to announce the move to push through the controversial pension reform without a vote, lawmakers from opposition parties stood up, sang the national anthem and displayed placards saying "no to 64 years" and "democracy".

Forced to yell over the top of the dissenting voices, Borne said: "Based on article 49.3 of the constitution, I engage the government's responsibility."

The government's plans to raise the pension age from 62 to 64 have prompted nationwide strikes since January, which have hit schools, airports, energy plants and refineries.

Also, trash has been piling up on the streets of Paris this month since garbage collection workers decided to join the strikes.

Macron's pension reform plans, first proposed in 2017 and then delayed by the pandemic, are deeply unpopular, though he has always insisted they are an important step in securing the pension system.

Leaders of the Republicans Party had agreed earlier this month to support the policy, giving Macron's minority coalition the required majority.

But some Republicans decided not to follow, prompting the government to trigger the controversial clause, Paragraph 3 of Article 49, which allows the government to act unilaterally and push through policy without a parliamentary vote.

The only way to block a bill passed under this rule would be through a no-confidence vote in the government.

More than 80 percent of voters are unhappy with the decision to swerve the parliamentary process and 65 percent want strikes and protests to continue, according to a poll for RTL radio.

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