Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Macron’s leadership in danger amid tension over pension plan

by Sylvie Corbett

PARIS (AP) – Protest signs in France and a parody photo appearing online show President Emmanuel Macron sitting on a pile of garbage. The photo references garbage not being collected due to cleaners on strike, but also reflects what many French people think of their leader.

Macron, 45, had hoped that his effort 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, he finds his leadership disputed in parliament and on the streets of major cities.

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

Demonstrators wave a parody photo at a protest after Macron elected at the last minute on Thursday to invoke the government’s constitutional power to pass the bill without a vote in the National Assembly. Since then he is silent on this subject.

Since becoming president in 2017, Macron has often been accused of arrogance and being out of touch. Hailed as “the president of the rich”, he drew outrage for telling an unemployed man that he only needed to “cross the street” to find work and by suggesting that some French workers were “lazy”. .

Now, Macron’s government has alienated incoming citizens “for a long time” by using special powers under Article 49.3 of the French constitution to introduce widely unpopular changes, said Brice Tinturier, deputy director general of the Ipsos poll institute. he said.

The only winners of the situation are far-right leader Marine Le Pen and her National Rally party, “which both continue their strategy of being ‘respectable’ and opposing Macron,” and France’s labor union, Tinturier said. Le Pen was the runner-up to Macron in the country’s last two presidential elections.

As piles of rubbish grow larger and the stench from them grows, many in Paris blame Macron, not the striking workers.

Macron has repeatedly said he is convinced the French retirement system needs to be reformed to keep it funded. They say that other proposed options, such as increasing the already heavy tax burden, would drive away investment and reducing the pensions of current retirees was not a realistic option.

Public displays of resentment may weigh heavily on his future decisions. The spontaneous, sometimes violent protests in Paris and across the country in recent days stand in stark contrast to the largely peaceful demonstrations and strikes previously organized by France’s major unions.

Macron’s re-election for a second term last April cemented his position as a senior player in Europe. He campaigned on a pro-business agenda, vowed to address the pension issue and said the French should “work longer.”

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

Since then, Conservative MPs have agreed to support some bills that suit their own policies. But tensions over the pension plan, and a wider lack of trust between the ideologically diverse parties, could end efforts to reach a compromise.

Macron’s political opponents in the National Assembly filed two no-confidence motions against the government of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Friday. Government officials are hoping to avoid a vote on the motions set for Monday because the opposition is divided, with many Republicans expected not to support it.

If either motion is passed, however, it would be a major blow to Macron: the pensions bill would be rejected and his cabinet would have to resign. In that case, the president would need to appoint a new cabinet and his ability to pass legislation would be weakened.

But Macron will retain substantial authority over foreign policy, European affairs and defence. As Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, he can make decisions about 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 for a stable political system for the Fifth Republic established in 1958.

The future of the prime minister looks less certain. If the no-confidence motion fails, Macron could implement a higher retirement age but may try to appease his critics with a government reshuffle. But Bourne has shown no sign of backing down.

Speaking on French television network TF1 on Thursday, he said, “I am confident that we will create the good solutions that our country needs in agreement with labor unions and employers’ organizations.” “There are many subjects on which we must continue to work in Parliament.

Macron plans to propose new measures designed to reduce France’s unemployment rate from 7.2% to 5% by the end of his second and final term.

Another option available to the President is to dissolve the National Assembly and call early parliamentary elections.

This scenario appears unlikely for now, as the unpopularity of the pension plan means Macron’s coalition will be unlikely to secure a majority of seats. And if another party wins, it must appoint a prime minister from the majority faction, which empowers the government to implement policies that differ from the president’s preferences.

Mathilde Panot, a lawmaker from the left-wing Nuaps coalition, said with sarcasm on Thursday that it was a “very good” idea for Macron to dissolve the assembly and trigger elections.

“I believe this will be a good opportunity for the country to confirm that yes, they want to lower the retirement age to 60,” Panot said. “Knoops are always available to govern.”

Le Pen said she would also welcome “disengagement”.


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