Protests in Paris as Macron passes pension reform without vote

France in political crisis as reform, which will raise legal retirement age from 62 to 64, is passed by decree

French police used water cannon to disperse a spontaneous demonstration on the Place de la Concorde on Thursday after 6,000 students and trade unionists converged on Paris’s main square to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to pass his controversial pension reform by decree.

The protests started as soon as it became known that Macron had asked prime minister Elisabeth Borne to engage her government’s responsibility and pass the reform without a vote, as allowed by article 49.3 of the constitution.

The gathering was at first light-hearted, with some protestors playing music, but grew progressively more strident. Demonstrators faced riot police protecting the National Assembly. “It’s going to blow,” some chanted. The Concorde metro station was closed. Debris was set on fire and an attempt was made to raise barricades.

Protests against what Macron’s critics termed a violation of democratic principles occurred in other French cities as well. The alliance between students and trade unionists was reminiscent of the May 1968 revolution.


The reform will raise the legal retirement age from 62 to 64. Polls have consistently shown that two-thirds of the population reject it. Millions have participated in strikes and eight national protest days since January 19th.

Prime minister Borne had insisted that she would hold a vote on the law. A bi-cameral commission of 14 deputies and senators agreed on a text on Wednesday. Macron summoned party leaders to the Élysée for last-minute consultations.

The president could not rely on the support of the conservative party Les Républicains. When it became obvious that the law was not certain to pass, Macron held an emergency cabinet meeting where he asked Borne to invoke article 49.3.

“My political interest and my political will were to go for a vote,” Macron reportedly told his cabinet. “But I consider that in the present state of things, the financial and economic risks are too great.”

Deputies in the National Assembly have until Friday afternoon to file no confidence motions. A vote is likely to be held early next week.

The far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced immediately that she will put forward a motion. A small independent party known as Liot is also preparing a motion, which will be supported by the left-wing coalition Nupes.

Le Pen predicted the government will fall and called the use of the constitutional mechanism “an extraordinary avowal of weakness” and “a total failure of government”.

It is unlikely the government will fall, since half the 577-strong assembly would have to vote for the same no confidence motion. Public anger over the reform is likely to be expressed in the street and in the ballot box. Macron’s entourage say he is haunted by the fear he could be succeeded by the far right.

When Borne arrived in the chamber of the National Assembly to make her speech invoking article 49.3 she was greeted with shouts of “Resign. Resign. Resign.” Deputies held up placards saying “No to age 64″, booed, banged on their desks and sang the Marseillaise, drowning out much of her short speech.

“If each of you voted their conscience and were consistent with past positions, it would not have come to this today,” Borne said. She said she and the labour minister consulted extensively with trade unions, business management and political parties and had sought compromise.

“I never approve of the use of violence,” Laurent Berger, the leader of France’s largest trade union CFDT said in an interview published by the Journal du Dimanche before Thursday’s events. “That said, it may be the unfortunate consequence of the contempt we have come up against. There is profound resentment in the world of labour.”

Three-quarters of respondents to a poll published on March 15th said government recourse to article 49.3 would be unacceptable.

Deputies from the far-left party France Unbowed (LFI) joined the demonstration. “We already had an Emmanuel Macron who crushed working France,” said François Ruffin, an LFI deputy. “Today we have an Emmanuel Macron who is crushing democracy.”

On Wednesday night, the prefect of Paris Laurent Nunez announced that he will requisition rubbish collectors who have been on strike for 10 days. An estimated 7,000 tonnes of stinking garbage line the streets of Paris.