Macron Plays for Time as France Burns

Macron Plays for Time as France Burns
Firefighters put out a fire near Concorde square after a demonstration against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, in Paris, France, March 16, 2023 (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

A day of nationwide strikes against French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform has paralyzed France for the ninth time in recent months. The big question now is whether Macron will blink and retract the law, which he pushed through last week without a parliamentary vote.

The legislation would lift the French retirement age by two years, from 62 to 64. At the moment, France has one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe, contrasting with 67 in Italy, 65-67 in Germany and 66 in the United Kingdom. The French president has infuriated unions and much of the public by bypassing a parliamentary vote after it became clear he would lose, using clause 49.3 of the constitution to enact the law. Parliament still could have overturned the reform with a vote of no-confidence in the government Monday, but that mention fell short by just nine votes.

Macron is benefiting from France’s presidential system, which affords the executive much more power compared to many other countries, including the United States. Macron lost his parliamentary majority last year, a rarity for a French president. Since then, he has relied on forming ad hoc coalitions with opposition lawmakers to pass laws on a case-by-case basis, but it was clear that would not work this time. Today’s strike has disrupted train service and airport travel, closed schools and blocked energy deliveries. Macron has requisitioned refinery workers to keep energy flowing.

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