Riots occurred in France after President Emmanuel Macron decided to bypass parliament with a reform bill that raises the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a parliamentary vote according to the Associated Press. Mass protests were already present when President Macron’s pension reform plan was presented back in January.
It is estimated that on the first day of mass mobilization against Macron’s reform plan on January 19 that between 1.27 million to nearly 3 million protesters assembled. Prior to the latest act of bypassing a parliamentary vote on the unpopular reform, on March 7th there were already around 1.28 million persons protesting in the streets. Ian Miles Cheong, a conservative blogger, summarized the state of France after Macron’s act when he tweeted “France is on fire. Mass riots in response to Macron overriding the legislature.”
The riots sparked government action with 310 persons being arrested overnight. 250 of those arrests were centered in Paris as per the Associated Press.
A representative of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union told the Associated Press that the large protests and refusal to work was “the only way that we will get them [the government] to back down. We are not going to stop.” A number of trade unions have echoed similar sentiments and branded the reforms as “brutal, unjust, unjustified for the world of workers.”
France is no stranger to the massive street protest and acts of political violence as it was most extremely experienced in the revolutions (and the aftermaths of said revolutions) of 1789, 1830, and 1848. It is, however, unlikely that the violence will go to such extremes as the highlighted revolutionary episodes. Already many in the parliamentary opposition to Macron’s unilateral act have expressed a demand for the government led by the Prime Minister, who is a Macron ally, to step down and threatened to issue a motion of no confidence to force the government to do so as per the Associated Press.
As noted by the same source in the event the motion is successful “Macron could reappoint Borne [the current Prime Minister] if he chooses, and a new Cabinet would be named.” If the motion is indeed successful, it would be the first time since 1962 that the French government was brought down in such a manner. The major snag to the motion appears to be the leaders of The Republicans, a right-wing opposition party, who have stated that they do not back the motion. A no-confidence motion requires a parliamentary majority in support of it in order to pass.
While Macron, in spite of his popularity problems, was re-elected in 2022 with 58.5 percent of the vote, his centrist coalition failed to attain a governing majority in the subsequent parliamentary election. This has led to difficulty in passing his preferred reforms through the regular parliamentary process. The opposition to Macron, however, is fragmented politically spanning from right-wing parties to left-wing parties.
Those who defended Macron’s reform were the French Prime Minister, Elizabeth Bourne who shouted in a heated session of parliament that “[w]e can’t take the risk of seeing 175 hours of parliamentary debate come to nothing.” Opposition to the reform from the right was made by Marine Le Pen who said, “[i]t’s a total failure for the government. From the beginning, the government fooled itself into thinking it had a majority.” The leader of France’s socialist party, Oliver Faure, declared “[w]hen a president has no majority in the country, no majority in the National Assembly, he must withdraw his bill.”