‘Weakened’ Macron sticks with pension Bill, eyes new reforms, says source

A defaced portrait of French President Emmanuel Macron is seen as unionists block access to a nuclear power plant, near Blaye, south-western France, on March 21, 2023. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS - French President Emmanuel Macron is looking to regain the initiative with new reforms in the coming weeks after his government barely survived a no-confidence motion on Monday over an unpopular pension Bill, a source said.

Some in Mr Macron’s own camp have warned him against continuing business as usual amid violent protests and rolling strikes that represent the most serious challenge to the centrist President’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago.

“We are all weakened. The President, the government and the majority,” a senior MP in Mr Macron’s camp, Mr Gilles Le Gendre, told Liberation newspaper.

“It’s not because the law was adopted that we can do business as usual.”

Another MP in Mr Macron’s camp, Mr Patrick Vignal, bluntly urged the President to suspend the pension reform Bill, which will raise the retirement age by two years to 64, given the anger it has triggered, and its deep unpopularity.

But Mr Macron does not plan any reshuffle, snap elections or major changes of any sort and has ruled out withdrawing the pension law, the source who took part in meetings between Mr Macron and key allies on Tuesday told Reuters.

He will instead try and use a TV interview on Wednesday to “calm things down” and will plan reforms for the rest of his mandate, the source said.

No U-turn

Speaking to Parliament, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt also made clear the government would not change tack.

While Ms Borne said they would try in future to better involve citizens and unions in lawmaking, she gave no specifics, and both said they had devoted as much time to dialogue on the pension Bill as possible.

“What we expect from the President of the Republic is that he draws up an outlook… a three-, six-month calendar (of reforms),” Mr Sacha Houlie, an MP in Mr Macron’s camp, told Reuters, saying he hoped for proposals on issues including how businesses could be pushed to share more of their profits with workers.

Social Party chief Oliver Faure told the government they were “playing with fire”.

Other opposition MPs urged Mr Macron to fire Ms Borne, call snap elections and hold a referendum on the pension Bill because of the widespread anger.

“The government is finished,” said Mr Fabien Roussel, secretary-general of the Communist party.

What next?

Polls show a wide majority of French are opposed to the pension reform, as well as the government’s decision to push the Bill through Parliament without a vote.

“I think this was a denial of democracy. The government passed a law which a majority of French people were against,” scriptwriter Jean Regnaud said.

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Protesters played cat-and-mouse with police in cities across France for a fifth night on Monday, setting bins and barricades on fire while police responded with tear gas and charged at protesters.

Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said there would be an investigation after footage of a police officer punching a protester went viral.

In another sign of growing anger, scuffles broke out on Tuesday at a ExxonMobil’s Fos-sur-Mer oil refinery, as the government took steps to order striking workers back to work.

The site was enveloped in tear gas, while some demonstrators intermittently threw objects at police lines.

A nationwide day of strikes and protests is planned for Thursday.

“These are basically Macron’s two choices,” EuroIntelligence analysts said.

“Pretending that nothing major happened and letting the crisis wear itself out, or pursuing co-habitation with the willing in the assembly.”

“Given Macron’s nature, we see him being more attracted to the first option. A risky bet.” REUTERS

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