French President Emmanuel Macron Faces Political Crisis as Protests Escalate

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Macron Survives No-Confidence Vote, but Challenges Persist

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron is facing one of the biggest challenges to his authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt over four years ago. Violent protests have erupted across the country, unions have stepped up strikes, and Macron’s government barely survived a no-confidence motion.

Despite the close vote, Macron’s flagship pension reform, which raises the retirement age by two years to 64, was adopted. This is a relief for Macron, who made it a key plank of his second mandate. However, even lawmakers in Macron’s camp warned that the crisis was far from over.

Protesters are surrounded by riot police during a demonstration on the day the National Assembly debates and votes on two motions of no-confidence against the French government, tabled by centrist group Liot and far-right Rassemblement National party, for its use of article 49.3, a special clause in the French Constitution, to push the pensions reform bill by Macron in Paris, France, March 20, 2023.
Protesters are surrounded by riot police during a demonstration on the day the National Assembly debates and votes on two motions of no-confidence against the French government, tabled by centrist group Liot and far-right Rassemblement National party, for its use of article 49.3, a special clause in the French Constitution, to push the pensions reform bill by Macron in Paris, France, March 20, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The BBC reported that protesters played cat-and-mouse with police for a fifth night on Monday, setting bins and barricades on fire. More than 200 people were arrested after spontaneous protests broke out following the failed no-confidence motion. The large number of young people in the demonstrations may concern the executive.

The majority of French people are opposed to the pension reform and the government’s decision to push the bill through parliament without a vote. Polls show this has triggered anger and deep unpopularity. Strikes at petrol depots in southeastern France have led to shortages and rationing, forcing the government to order the requisitioning of staff to ensure supplies.

Read Also: French President Faces Violent Unrest Over Pension Overhaul

Macron will break his silence on Wednesday with a TV interview to “outline what happens now.” Analysts suggest that Macron’s two choices are to pretend that nothing major happened and let the crisis wear itself out or pursue co-habitation with the willing in the assembly. Given Macron’s nature, analysts see him being more attracted to the first option, which is a risky bet.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during the National Roundtable on Diplomacy at the foreign ministry in Paris, Thursday, March 16, 2023. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during the National Roundtable on Diplomacy at the foreign ministry in Paris, Thursday, March 16, 2023. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS

Macron’s Next Move

Macron will hold talks on Tuesday with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, the heads of both houses of parliament, and lawmakers in his political camp as he seeks to plot an exit to the political crisis. One key question in the coming days will be whether Macron sticks with his existing government or looks to freshen things up, even if the potential paralysis in parliament will make governing more complicated.

Macron’s camp has mixed views on his next move. While Sacha Houlie, an MP in Macron’s camp, brushed off the possibility of a change of prime minister, another MP, Patrick Vignal, urged the president to suspend the pension reform bill in the face of the anger it has triggered. Houlie hopes for proposals on issues, including how businesses could be pushed to share more of their profits with workers.

Members of parliament of the left hold placards after the result of the vote on the first motion of no-confidence against the French government, tabled by centrist group Liot, after the use by French government of the article 49.3, a special clause in the French Constitution, to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers, at the National Assembly in Paris, France, March 20, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Members of parliament of the left hold placards after the result of the vote on the first motion of no-confidence against the French government, tabled by centrist group Liot, after the use by French government of the article 49.3, a special clause in the French Constitution, to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers, at the National Assembly in Paris, France, March 20, 2023. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

A nationwide day of strikes and protests is planned for Thursday, adding to the pressure on Macron. The situation in France is fluid and constantly evolving. It remains to be seen what Macron’s next move will be, and how the crisis will be resolved. – Reuters