Protests against French President Emmanuel Macron as his pension bill is forced through parliament

Municipality workers block the entrance of a waste incarnation plant in Paris, Friday, March 17, 2023.
Municipality workers block the entrance of a waste incarnation plant in Paris, Friday, March 17, 2023. Copyright Lewis Joly/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Euronews with AP
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Workers, unions and opposition politicians have staged widespread protests in France after the country's president and prime minister used a constitutional clause to force pension reform plans through parliament.

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Striking sanitation workers blocked a waste collection plant that is home to Europe's largest incinerator to underline their determination, and university students walked out of lecture halls to join the strikes. Leaders of the influential CGT union called on people to leave schools, factories, refineries and other workplaces.

Union leaders were not the only ones angry about Macron’s plan to make French citizens work for two more years before becoming eligible to collect full pensions. Opposition parties were expected to start procedures later Friday for a no-confidence vote on the government led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. The vote would likely take place early next week.

Macron ordered Borne on Thursday to make use of a special constitutional power to push the highly unpopular pension bill through without a vote in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.

Calculated risk

His calculated risk infuriated opposition lawmakers, many citizens and unions. Thousands gathered in protest Thursday at the Place de la Concorde, which faces the National Assembly building. As night fell, police officers charged the demonstrators in waves to clear the Place. Small groups then moved through nearby streets in the chic Champs-Elysees neighbourhood, setting street fires.

Similar scenes repeated themselves in numerous other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in eastern France to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed, according to French media.

310 people arrested

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told radio station RTL on Friday that 310 people were arrested overnight. Most of the arrests, 258, were made in Paris, according to Darmanin.

The trade unions that had organised strikes and marches against a higher retirement age said more rallies and protest marches would take place in the days ahead. “This retirement reform is brutal, unjust, unjustified for the world of workers,” they declared.

Overwhelming streets with discontent and refusing to continue working is “the only way that we will get them to back down,” CGT union representative Régis Vieceli told The Associated Press on Friday. He added: “We are not going to stop.”

“We are not going to stop.”
Régis Vieceli
CGT union representative

Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is needed to make the French economy more competitive and to keep the pension system from diving into deficit. France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

Macron decided to invoke the special power during a Cabinet meeting a few minutes before a scheduled vote in the National Assembly, where the legislation had no guarantee of securing majority support. The Senate adopted the bill earlier Thursday.

Opposition lawmakers demanded the government to step down. If the expected no-confidence motion fails, the pension bill would be considered adopted. If it passes, it would also spell the end of Macron's retirement reform plan and force the government to resign, a first since 1962.

Macron could reappoint Borne if he chooses, and a new Cabinet would be named.

Macron’s centrist alliance has the most seats in the National Assembly, where a no-confidence motion also requires majority support. Left-wing and far-right lawmakers are determined to vote in favour.

Leaders of the The Republicans have said their conservative party would not back the motion. While some party lawmakers might stray from that position, they are expected to be a minority.

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