Thousands of people furious at the French government’s plan to raise the retirement age by two years gathered in a protest on Thursday, with demonstrations escalating into clashes with police and arson after reports emerged that President Emmanuel Macron was the Reform would ram through without a parliamentary vote.
In the plenary chamber of the National Assembly, where lawmakers had just learned they had been denied a vote on the measure, equally angry representatives from both sides of the aisle banged their desks and stormed out la marseillaisethe French national anthem, and tried to drown out Prime Minister Élizabeth Borne as she tried to explain what had just happened – and why.
“We can’t bet on the future of our pensions,” she said from the lectern, according to CNN. Macron’s hugely unpopular pension bill would raise the statutory retirement age from 62 to 64 and tighten restrictions on full pensions before age 67.
“This reform is necessary,” she added, barely audible over the sneer.
Borne gave up after less than 10 minutes, The New York Times reported. Opposition lawmakers poured out of the chamber to angrily denounce the decision to invoke Article 49.3 of the French constitution, which allowed Macron to avoid a vote in the assembly where he had no guarantee of a majority. He had invoked constitutional powers in a cabinet meeting just minutes before the scheduled vote.
“Today is the first day of the end of Emmanuel Macron’s term in office,” Mathild Panot, leader of left-wing France Unbowed party, raged to reporters on the ground floor.
“The administration’s use of the 49.3 procedure reflects the failure of this presidential minority,” Charles de Courson, an independent lawmaker, told news channel BFMTV. “Not only are they a minority in the National Assembly, they are a minority across the country. The denial of democracy continues.”
Elsewhere in the crowd, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, expressed the same sentiment. She later tweeted: “After the slap the Prime Minister just gave the French people by pushing through a reform they don’t want, I think Elisabeth Borne should go.”
Opposition leaders from both sides proposed to table a motion of no confidence in Macron and his government on Friday. If successful, it would be the first such case since 1962. Macron previously survived two no-confidence votes on a budget law also passed under 49.3 last October, four months after his centrist alliance lost its parliamentary majority.
Outside and across the Seine, people had gathered in the Place de la Concorde to demonstrate, waving flags, signs and balloons amid a generally cheerful atmosphere. Students demonstrated and called for a general strike. A group of women danced to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”. Just reported, after slightly altering the text: “To the grave for the working class. No to 64 years.” A man was selling sandwiches from the back of his van.
But as night fell, police moved to clear the square and the protests became more chaotic. Jean-Luc Melenchon, a leftist and former member of the National Assembly, told the crowd in the square that Macron had “overruled the will of the people,” according to the Associated Press. A fire was lit in the center of the square as officers in riot gear fired tear gas at the crowd. At least 217 people were arrested, the Paris police headquarters announced late Thursday Le Monde.
Union leaders vowed to maintain their opposition to pension reform, a deeply sensitive issue in France the Confédération Générale du Travail, which announces another national day of strikes and demonstrations next Thursday. It would be the ninth day of this kind in two months, they say Just.