Macron Invokes Controversial Constitutional Maneuver to Impose Pensions Reform in France
Pensions reform has long been a thorny issue in France, and President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to raise the state retirement age to 64 has sparked huge protests and strikes nationwide. On Thursday, in a move that dealt a significant blow to his leadership, Macron authorized the use of a controversial constitutional maneuver to bypass parliament and impose his deeply unpopular pensions reform.
Currently, France has the lowest qualifying age for a state pension among the main European economies and spends a significant amount supporting the system. Macron’s reform would increase the legal age of retirement to 64 from 62 and extend contributions for a full pension in an effort to balance the accounts of France’s state pensions system — among the most generous in the world.
The proposed changes to France’s pension system have been met with strong opposition since the start of the year. On Thursday, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne invoked article 49.3 of the constitution, which allows the government to adopt a bill without a parliamentary vote, because she said there was too much economic risk to the country if MPs voted against the bill.
The move sparked protests and more than 300 arrests in Paris and across several French cities. It also prompted two motions of no confidence against the government, one from Marine Le Pen's party Rassemblement National, signed by 88 cross-party MPs, and another from a group of independent politicians backed by 91 MPs.
Pensions reform has been a political flashpoint in France for decades, with millions taking to the streets to oppose raising the retirement age in 1995, 2010 and 2014. The French people have shown massive opposition to the bill, with opinion polls showing large majorities against it.
The use of article 49.3 was a highly risky move for Macron as it allows lawmakers to table a motion of no confidence within 24 hours. A motion must receive a majority of votes from MPs in order for Borne's government to be obligated to resign. It deprives him and his government of democratic legitimacy and exposes them to a confidence vote, which they may lose.
Pensions are a highly emotive issue in France, as most people rely on state pensions. It is a system prized for what politicians call “solidarity between the generations” – whereby the working population pay mandatory payroll charges to fund those in retirement. State pensions are provided to all French workers.
0. “What's Happening in France? Videos Show Paris Burning in Protest” Newsweek, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.newsweek.com/whats-happening-france-videos-show-paris-burning-protest-1788378
1. “Macron’s defiant show of force in parliament exposes a weakened president” POLITICO Europe, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/macron-invokes-nuclear-option-to-force-through-his-pensions-reform-in-huge-political-setback/
2. “Why Macron's change to pension age has sparked protests – and how does France compare to UK?” Sky News, 17 Mar. 2023, https://news.sky.com/story/why-macrons-change-to-pension-age-has-sparked-protests-and-how-does-france-compare-to-uk-12836015
3. “French anger spreads after Macron forces pension age rise” The Guardian, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/17/french-anger-spreads-after-macron-forces-pension-age-rise
4. “French workers may have to retire at 64 and many are in uproar. Here's why” CNN, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/17/europe/french-pension-reforms-explainer-intl-cmd/index.html
5. “Jean-Luc Mélenchon: France's Pension Battle Isn't Over” Jacobin magazine, 17 Mar. 2023, https://jacobin.com/2023/03/jean-luc-melenchon-emmanuel-macron-france-pension-reform-protests-no-confidence-vote
6. “Why are pensions such a political flashpoint in France?” The Guardian, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/mar/16/why-are-pensions-such-a-political-flashpoint-in-france-macron
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