Macron Faces Reckoning as He Passes Unpopular Pensions Reform Without Parliamentary Vote
PARIS—French President Emmanuel Macron faced a moment of reckoning Thursday when his government invoked a controversial constitutional maneuver to bypass Parliament and impose a deeply unpopular pensions reform. The move, which came in the face of mass protests and opposition from lawmakers, is a significant blow to Macron’s leadership and is likely to provoke further unrest and strikes.
The reform, which would increase the legal age of retirement to 64 from 62 and extend contributions for a full pension, is a cornerstone of Macron’s bid for re-election last year. However, the government struggled to cobble together enough votes in Parliament, prompting Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne to trigger a vote of no-confidence rather than hold a straight up-and-down vote on the bill itself.
The maneuver, which allows MPs to submit motions of no-confidence within 24 hours, is a risky move for Macron as it could force Borne’s government to resign if a majority of MPs vote in favor of a motion. Despite the risks, party heavyweights have declared they will not shy away from seeking a vote.
The government’s decision to invoke article 49.3 of the French constitution is a dramatic move, and has highlighted the political difficulty of reforming pensions in Western democracies. Macron had promised to reform France's complicated pension system when he was going for election and then re-election, but the decision to force through the reforms without a parliamentary vote has provided ammunition to protesters and opposition parties to mobilize against him.
The political crisis over pensions changes shows how Macron has been severely undermined in the national assembly after his centrist grouping failed to win an absolute majority in parliamentary elections last June. It remains to be seen how the railroading through parliament of a plan that’s sparked France’s biggest strikes and demonstrations in years will test the legitimacy of a term-limited president and his minority government in future dealings with the unions and lawmakers.
0. “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/
1. “Macron's bypasses parliament to raise retirement age with executive powers” The Washington Post, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/03/16/france-retirement-age-vote-macron
2. “The Debate – Macron goes for nuclear option: French government overrides parliament over pensions” FRANCE 24 English, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.france24.com/en/tv-shows/the-debate/20230316-macron-opts-for-nuclear-option-french-government-overrides-parliament-over-pensions
3. “Protesters outraged as Macron forces through retirement age hike” Axios, 17 Mar. 2023, https://www.axios.com/2023/03/16/macron-retirement-age-france-protests
4. “Macron on the brink: How French pensions revolt could wreck his presidency” POLITICO Europe, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/emmanuel-macron-pensions-revolt-presidency-france
5. “Macron Government Bypasses France's National Assembly to Pass Pension Overhaul” The Wall Street Journal, 16 Mar. 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/macron-government-bypasses-frances-national-assembly-to-pass-pension-overhaul-26089695