Protests Erupt Over French Pension Law

Protests have erupted in France following the pension reforms pushed through the French parliament by President Emmanuel Macron (he/him). The pension reform bill raises the retirement age from 62 to 64. Smaller protests began when the idea of raising the retirement age was proposed in January, but the larger controversy stems from the manner used to pass the bill. 

President Macron pushed the bill through using special constitutional powers that override the traditional votes needed to pass legislation. The bill was unpopular in the National Assembly (the lower house of parliament) and would have been unlikely to pass by vote. 

Announcing that the government would be invoking section 49.3 of the constitution to bypass the vote, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne (she/her) told members of parliament, “We cannot bet on the future of our pensions. This reform is necessary.”

The reform’s passage has led to mass protests around Paris. A national strike was enacted by many unions, including teachers, sanitation workers, and airport employees. Ten thousand tons of garbage piled up in the streets of Paris until the sanitation union ended its strike on March 28th. According to the French Interior Ministry, CNN reports, “Some 740,000 protesters joined 240 rallies held throughout France on Tuesday [the 28th], with more than 93,000 demonstrators filling the streets of the capital alone.” That number grew to one million protesters nationwide the following Thursday.

Protesters have also clashed with police. The New York Times reports, “Though most marchers remained peaceful, there was a surge in violence in some cities, among them Paris, Nantes and Rennes … The police responded with tear gas, water cannon and dispersal grenades.” Many videos of these clashes have been posted online. 

President Macron commented on the protests on March 30th while in southern France to speak on water conservation in the French Alps. He told reporters, “There is a social movement against a reform. But that doesn’t mean that everything else has to stop.”

Before going into effect, the law must be reviewed by the Constitutional Council, which could strike down all or part of the bill. A decision will likely be made by the Council in mid-April.

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