March 22, 2023

Protests in Paris

“Protesters set piles of rubbish on fire in central Paris on Monday after President Emmanuel Macron's government narrowly survived a no-confidence motion in parliament on Monday over a deeply unpopular pension reform. The failure of the no-confidence vote will be a relief to Macron. Had it succeeded, it would have sunk his government and killed the legislation, which is set to raise the retirement age by two years to 64…

“Opponents say this shows Macron's decision to bypass a parliamentary vote on the pension bill - which triggered the no confidence motions - has already undermined his reformist agenda and weakened his leadership.” Reuters

Many on both sides agree that reforms are needed to the French pension system, but are concerned about Macron’s methods:

“The cold reality is that France needs reform because its pay-as-you-go pension system is unsustainable. The retirement age is 62, one of the youngest in Europe, and Mr. Macron would stretch it only to 64 with some exceptions. The worker-to-retiree ratio has shrunk to 1.7 to 1 from 3 to 1 in 1970. French pensions already consume 14% of the economy, and Mr. Macron has warned that ‘there are no more peace dividends as a result of Russia's aggression in Ukraine,’ and he wants to increase France’s military spending…

“The dilemma for welfare-state democracies is that their expansive entitlements are unaffordable but politically entrenched. Elected officials are reluctant to ask their citizens to make any kind of sacrifice. Mr. Macron has been an exception, and his political ordeal is probably America’s future too.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Mr. Macron is right on the substance of his reform… As the baby boomer generation ages, its population gains three people over 65 every five minutes, according to France’s National Institute for Demographic Studies. At the same time, the country’s average life expectancy has increased in recent years, reaching about 85 years for women and 79 years for men in 2020…

“Mr. Macron’s adjustment will be small, raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, which would still keep France well in line with most of its European neighbors. In Germany, for instance, the retirement age is 65, and lawmakers there are preparing to raise it to 67… It is unfortunate Mr. Macron had to resort to imposing his reform without a parliamentary vote. Substantial changes to popular social programs are better achieved by vote of elected legislatures. In the long term, this helps ensure that needed reforms remain durable as power shifts to new leaders.”
Editorial Board, Washington Post

“Mr Macron would never dream of such nakedly anti-democratic tactics, if he thought his unpopular reforms stood any chance of passing in the National Assembly… Mr Macron’s critics have always branded him an elitist ‘president of the rich’ and he has handed them yet more ammunition with his dodging of democracy…

“The president will not resign but he will be left a lame duck. His chances of passing even unambitious reforms for the rest of his five-year mandate have taken a serious blow… In his early days as president, Mr Macron styled himself as a ‘Jupiterian president’, with an aloof, almost imperial ruling style. Rather than ruling from the heavens with the authority of a Roman god, Mr Macron's high-handed gamble screams weakness.”
James Crisp and Henry Samuel, The Telegraph

“Mr. Macron’s use of the ‘nuclear option,’ as the France 24 TV network described it, was entirely legal under the French Constitution, crafted in 1958 for Charles de Gaulle and reflecting the general’s strong view that power should be centered in the president’s office, not among feuding lawmakers. But legality is one thing and legitimacy another. Mr. Macron may see his decision as necessary to cement his legacy as the leader who left France prepared to face the rest of the 21st century. But to many French people it looked like presidential diktat, a blot on his reputation and a blow to French democracy…

“The case for the overhaul was strong. It was not only to Mr. Macron that retirement at 62 looked untenable as lives grew longer. The math, over the longer term at least, simply does not add up in a system where the ratio of active workers to the retirees they are supporting through their payroll taxes keeps dropping. But in an anxious France, with many people struggling to pay their bills and unsure of their futures, Mr. Macron could not make the argument. In fact, he hardly seemed to try… Now in his final term, he must walk a lonely road."
Roger Cohen, New York Times

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