French pension reform: outrage in Paris post no-confidence votes

Groups of angry demonstrators took to Paris’ streets on Monday evening, in the wake of the adoption by parliament of a divisive pension bill, after lawmakers in the lower chamber rejected two no-confidence votes against the government.

Several hundred people walked through Central Paris as bins and plastic bags were set on fire, while some called for the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron. 

Macron’s divisive plan to raise France’s retirement age from 62 to 64 has caused regular nationwide protests in recent weeks.

A man passes by fires set by protesters in Lyon, central France, after parliament adopted a divisive pension bill, Monday, March 20, 2023.AP Photo

The bill pushed through by Macron without lawmakers’ approval still faces a review by the Constitutional Council before it can be signed into law. The council has the power to reject articles within bills but usually approves them.

The first no-confidence motion, proposed by a small centrist group with support across the left, narrowly missed approval by National Assembly lawmakers Monday afternoon, garnering 278 of the 287 votes needed to pass. 

The second motion, brought by the far-right National Rally, won just 94 votes in the chamber.

After Macron ordered Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to invoke a special constitutional power to skirt a vote in the chaotic lower chamber, lawmakers on the right and left filed no-confidence motions against her Cabinet on Friday.

However, the sometimes violent protests that have erupted across the country in recent days have contrasted with the largely peaceful demonstrations and strikes previously organised by France’s major unions.

A man passes by fires set by protesters in Lyon, central France, after parliament adopted a divisive pension bill, Monday, March 20, 2023.AP Photo

Government insiders and observers have raised fears that France is again heading for another bout of violent anti-government protests, only a few years after the “Yellow Vest” movement shook the country from 2018-2019.

There were reports of clashes with the police who used tear gas to disperse the crowds in the centre of Paris on Monday night, similar scenes were reported in the cities of Dijon and Strasbourg.

Macron has argued that pension changes are needed to avoid crippling deficits in the coming decades linked to France’s ageing population.

But opponents of the reform say it places an unfair burden on low earners, women and people doing physically wearing jobs. Opinion polls have consistently shown that two-thirds of French people oppose the changes.

“People who count above all”

“There are a lot of young people here. People think this subject does not concern us, but in fact, it does” said Shola, a political science student in Paris.  

“If our grandparents will now have to work longer, we know that things will get worse because, basically, that’s the path we’ve been taking for the last twenty years with increasingly liberal policies that respond to capitalism, meanwhile the youth have decided that it’s the people who count above all” she added.

Meanwhile, it is unclear when Macron will finally make public comments on the events, amid reports he is considering an address to the nation.

Hard-left figurehead Jean-Luc Melenchon said people “should express themselves everywhere and in all circumstances to force the withdrawal of the reform”.


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