March 2. 2024. 3:37

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Macron passes pension reform without vote and sparks political crisis

President Emmanuel Macron decided to pass his controversial pension reform by decree on Thursday, precipitating a political crisis of uncertain consequences.

The reform will raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64. Polls have consistently shown that approximately two-thirds of the population reject it. Over the past two months, millions have participated in strikes and eight national protest days.

Primeminister Elisabeth Borne had insisted that she would hold a vote on the law. A commission of seven deputies from the National Assembly and seven senators agreed on a text on Wednesday. Macron summoned party leaders to the Élysée for last-minute consultations.

The president could not rely on the support of the conservative party Les Républicains. When it became obvious that the law was not certain to pass, Macron held an emergency cabinet meeting where he asked Borne to invoke article 49.3 of the constitution to pass the law without a vote, engaging the responsibility of her government and inviting the opposition to file no confidence motions.

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“My political interest and my political will were to go for a vote,” Macron reportedly told his cabinet. “But I consider that in the present state of things, the financial and economic risks are too great.”

Deputies in the National Assembly have until Friday afternoon to file no confidence motions. A vote is likely to be early next week.

The far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced immediately that she will put forward a motion. A small independent party known as Liot is also preparing a motion, which will be supported by the left-wing coalition Nupes.

Le Pen predicted the government will fall and called the use of the constitutional mechanism “an extraordinary avowal of weakness” and “a total failure of government”.

It is unlikely the government will fall, since half the 577-strong assembly would have to vote for the same no confidence motion. Public anger over the reform may be expressed in the street and in the ballot box. Macron’s entourage say he is haunted by the fear he could be succeeded by the far right.

When Borne arrived in the chamber of the National Assembly to make her speech invoking article 49.3 she was greeted with shouts of “Resign. Resign. Resign.” Left-wing deputies held up placards saying “No to age 64″, booed, banged on their desks and sang the Marseillaise, drowning out much of her short speech.

“If each of you voted their conscience and were consistent with past positions, it would not have come to this today,” Borne said. She justified her own actions, saying that she and the labour minister consulted extensively with trade unions, business management and political parties and had sought compromise.

“This compromise is not the government’s project but the text of the parliament,” the embattled prime minister said. “We cannot gamble on the future of our pension system, and this reform is necessary.”

The greatest uncertainty is the reaction of the street. “Obviously there will be further mobilisation, because the rejection is extremely strong,” Laurent Berger, the leader of France’s largest trade union CFDT said.

“I never approve of the use of violence,” Berger said in an interview published by the Journal du Dimanche before Thursday’s events. “That said, it may be the unfortunate consequence of the contempt we have come up against. There is profound resentment in the world of labour.”

Three-quarters of respondents to a poll published on March 15th said government recourse to article 49.3 would be unacceptable.

While the prime minister was speaking, students marched along the quays from the Sorbonne, converging in a spontaneous demonstration with trade unionists on the Place de la Concorde, facing the National Assembly. The bridge across the Seine was blocked by security forces. “It’s going to blow,” some of them chanted.

Deputies from the far-left party France Unbowed (LFI) joined the demonstration. “We already had an Emmanuel Macron who crushed working France,” said François Ruffin, an LFI deputy. “Today we have an Emmanuel Macron who is crushing democracy.”

On Wednesday night, the prefect of Paris Laurent Nunez announced that he will requisition rubbish collectors who have been on strike for 10 days. An estimated 7,000 tonnes of stinking garbage line the streets of Paris.