HomeTop StoriesMacron's leadership is at risk amid tensions over the pension plan

Macron’s leadership is at risk amid tensions over the pension plan

PARIS (AP) — A parody photo appearing on protest signs and online in France shows President Emmanuel Macron sitting on piles of garbage. The image refers to the uncollected waste with striking sanitation workers, but also to what many French people think about their leader.

Macron, 45, had hoped his push to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 would cement his legacy as the president who transformed France’s economy for the 21st century. Instead, his leadership is contested, both in parliament and on the streets of major cities.

His brazen move to pass a pension reform bill without a vote has enraged political opposition and could hamper his government’s ability to pass legislation for the remaining four years of his term.

Protesters hoisted the parody photo at protests after Macron opted at the last minute on Thursday to invoke the government’s constitutional power to pass the bill without a vote in the National Assembly. He has been silent on the subject ever since.

Since becoming president in 2017, Macron has often been accused of being arrogant and out of touch. He was seen as ‘the president of the rich’ and aroused resentment for telling an unemployed man that all he had to do was ‘cross the street’ to find work and for suggesting that some French workers were ‘lazy’.

Now Macron’s government has alienated citizens “for a long time” by using the special power it has under Article 49.3 of the French constitution to impose a deeply unpopular change, Brice said Teinturier, Deputy Director General of the Ipsos Polling Institute.

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The only winners of the situation are far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her National Rally party, “which continues its strategy of both becoming ‘respectable’ and opposing Macron,” and the French trade unions, Teinturier said. Le Pen was Macron’s runner-up in the country’s last two presidential elections.

As the piles of rubbish get bigger and the stench gets worse, many people in Paris blame Macron, not the striking workers.

Macron repeatedly said he was convinced the French pension system needed to be adjusted to keep it funded. He says that other proposed options, such as increasing the already heavy tax burden, would push investment away and that cutting the pensions of current retirees was not a realistic alternative.

The public expressions of displeasure could weigh heavily on his future decisions. The spontaneous, sometimes violent, protests that have erupted in Paris and across the country in recent days are in stark contrast to the largely peaceful demonstrations and strikes previously staged by France’s largest trade unions.

Macron’s re-election to a second term last April cemented his position as a senior player in Europe. He campaigned on a corporate agenda, vowing to tackle the pension issue and saying the French should “work longer”.

In June, Macron’s centrist alliance lost its parliamentary majority, although it still has more seats than other political parties. He said at the time that his government “wanted to legislate in a different way”, based on compromises with a range of political groups.

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Since then, conservative lawmakers have agreed to support some bills that fit their own policies. But tensions over the pension plan and widespread lack of confidence among the ideologically diverse parties could put an end to attempts at compromise.

Macron’s political opponents in the National Assembly on Friday tabled two motions of no confidence against the government of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. Administration officials hope to survive a vote on the motions before Monday, as the opposition is divided and many Republicans are not expected to support them.

However, if a motion is passed, it will be a major blow to Macron: the pension law will be rejected and his cabinet will have to resign. In that case, the president would have to appoint a new cabinet and find himself less able to get legislation passed.

But Macron would retain substantial powers over foreign policy, European affairs and defence. As commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he can make decisions on France’s support for Ukraine and other global issues without parliamentary approval.

France’s strong presidential powers are a legacy of General Charles de Gaulle’s desire to have a stable political system for the Fifth Republic he founded in 1958.

The prime minister’s future seems less certain. If the no-confidence motions fail, Macron could introduce the higher retirement age, but try to appease his critics with a government reshuffle. But Borne has given no indication to withdraw.

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“I am convinced that we will build the good solutions our country needs by continuing to seek compromises with trade unions and employers’ organizations,” she said on French television channel TF1 on Thursday. “There are many issues on which we must continue to work in parliament.”

Macron plans to propose new measures to reduce unemployment in France to 5% by the end of his second and final term, from 7.2% today.

Another option in the hands of the president is to dissolve the National Assembly and call early parliamentary elections.

That scenario seems unlikely for now, as the pension plan’s unpopularity means Macron’s alliance is unlikely to win a majority of seats. And if another party were to win, it would have to nominate a prime minister from the majority faction, allowing the government to pursue policies that deviate from the president’s priorities.

Mathilde Panot, a legislator from the left-wing Nupes coalition, said sarcasm on Thursday that it was a “very good” idea by Macron to dissolve the Assembly and provoke elections.

“I think it would be a good opportunity for the country to reaffirm that they indeed want to lower the retirement age to 60,” Panot said. “The Nupes are always available to rule.”

Le Pen said she too would welcome a “dissolution”.


Follow AP’s coverage of the French government at https://apnews.com/hub/france-government

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