Macron Plots Next Move After Bitter Victory in Pensions Dispute

France was awaiting President Emmanuel Macron’s next steps on Tuesday after his government barely survived a vote of no confidence in Parliament, ensuring his unpopular pension reform became law but doing little to quell political uncertainty over the future of his second term.

Despite months of street protests and mass strikes, Macron has said little publicly about his pension reform, which raises the legal retirement age from 62 to 64, leaving it up to his cabinet members to defend it.

Macron is expected to publicly address the political turmoil and popular anger surrounding his pension plan for the first time in a television interview on Wednesday.

The reform was never popular, and discontent intensified after he opted to push his pension bill through the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, without a vote, due to his inability to secure a majority to pass the bill. legislation.

With 278 votes in favor, Monday’s main no-confidence motion fell just nine votes short of success, a much smaller margin than initially expected and a sign Macron’s political troubles are far from over.

A minority of lawmakers are expressing doubts even within Macron’s own Renaissance party, suggesting he should try to calm the country by shelving pension reform rather than going ahead with it.

“We have to put this pension reform on hold,” Patrick Vignal, a Renaissance legislator, he told the radio station Franceinfo on Tuesday.

“We need this pension reform,” added Vignal. But he said the public had lost trust in the government and needed to be heard. “We cannot always govern with 49.3,” he said, referring to the article in the French constitution that allowed the Macron government to push the bill through the lower house without a vote.

Others also insisted that business as usual was no longer possible.

“We are all weakened. The president, the government and the majority”, Gilles Le Gendre, an important legislator of the Renaissance, told Liberation newspaper on Tuesday. “The worst enemy,” he added, “is denial.”

But the Macron government said it was determined to stay the course. The president held a series of meetings with top cabinet ministers and political allies on Tuesday to chart out his next moves.

Olivier Véran, the French government spokesman, speaking with RTL radio on Tuesdaydismissed the motion of no confidence as an unnatural alliance of opposition parties interested only in overthrowing the government and incapable of governing.

“The prime minister and our majority are the only ones who have a project to govern today,” Véran said.

Vowing to continue the fight, opposition parties on both the left and right are challenging the new pension law before the Constitutional Council, a body that reviews legislation to ensure it complies with the French constitution.

The government has so far expressed confidence that the core of the law would stick, and Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne’s office said it would also refer the law to council as soon as possible to ensure it is quickly implemented.

Left legislators too filed an application to the council on Monday night, asking it to clear the way for a referendum allowing French voters to decide whether to set a maximum legal retirement age of 62.

The vote would go ahead only if those calling for it can collect signatures of support from at least five million citizens within the next nine months, a long and complex process.

But it was in the streets that opponents of the pension law mainly vented their anger.

Shortly after the vote of no confidence was rejected on Monday, thousands of people held spontaneous demonstrations across France. In Paris, marches of a few hundred protesters swept through the capital for several hours into the night, chanting slogans and booing the government.

Some protests turned violent, with small groups rampaging through the streets in a game of cat and mouse with the police.

Protesters set fire to piles of uncollected trash that had been sitting on the sidewalks for days, due to a strike by garbage collectors. An avenue in the capital’s Latin Quarter was littered with smoldering garbage ashes, with firefighters working to put out the last flames and overturned trash cans.

A few blocks away, the tension was palpable on Place Vauban, near the National Assembly, where hundreds of mostly young protesters had gathered. Riot police had completely cordoned off the accesses to the square, despite the fact that the protest had been approved.

“It’s unbelievable, you can see that the meeting is peaceful,” said Jérôme Legavre, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party. “We have a government that is at a dead end and is responding with an incredible number of police officers.”

Mr. Legavre and some of his colleagues joined the protest to show their support, but also in the hope that their presence would prevent potential clashes with the police. More than 280 people were arrested across the country overnight, according to police.

Unions have scheduled a ninth day of street protests and strikes across the country on Thursday. While none of the strikes have so far stopped France, lockouts and strikes in some sectors have lasted longer and been more damaging, prompting the government to toughen its response.

In Paris, the local police prefecture said tuesday that had requisitioned more than 670 workers to clean up the trash.

In the Bouches-du-Rhône area of ​​southern France, where some service stations were beginning to run out, local authorities said they were requisitioning workers at a fuel depot, one of several critical energy or transportation facilities. , such as refineries or ports, which have been closed or blocked during the last week by striking workers.

“We don’t want chaos”, Frédéric Souillot, leader of Force Ouvrière, one of the main unions, he told the BFMTV news channel on Tuesday. “We want to be heard.”