(Featured Image provided by AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)
For weeks, protests have been ongoing in France, and they’re not showing any signs of halting soon.
These protests come after the Borne government, led by French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne and French President Emmanuel Macron, proposed a 2023 pension reform bill that would increase the national retirement age from 62 to 64 as well as require that retirees must have worked for at least 43 years. The reasoning behind this is that Europe is currently experiencing higher life expectancies and lower fertility rates, and the government argues that with France’s current pension, they might soon go into deficit. Still, this bill is highly unpopular among the populace, and as a result, the French Parliament would not pass the bill. However, Macron made use of a special constitutional power called “Article 49.3”
Under this Article, the government can pass a bill without a vote from the lower house of Parliament after a cabinet meeting. However, lawmakers can call for a no-confidence motion within the first 24 hours of the article being enacted. If more than half of the seats in the house approve of the motion, then the government has to back down. Two no-confidence votes were held, however, both failed to strike down the pension bill. This only served to make the bill more unpopular with French citizens, with many seeing it as Macron skirting the Legislative branch to push forward his policy.
As a result, the protests that have been going on since early January have now become more violent than ever. Along with marching on the streets, thousands of workers all across Paris went on strike, refusing to work until something is done about the pension law. Garbage has piled up on Paris’ streets due to sanitation workers striking, and both the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre have closed due to similar strikes. Some protestors have even gone out of their way to block metros, airports, and universities. “French people are stubborn and things are getting out of hand,” said French citizen Helene Cogan. Over the past two weeks, there have been hundreds of reports of vandalism and at least over 2000 cases of arson, according to French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin. It’s gotten so bad that King Charle III’s state visit, which was planned to be sometime in the very near future, has now been indefinitely postponed. However, the French government still encourages tourists to visit, as life is going on just as normal regardless of all of the protests.
Police have attempted to disperse demonstrations in multiple cities, but reportedly have gotten objects thrown at them. Because of this, French police have restored to using teargas and even stun grenades to tame demonstrators, along with other methods. “They [the protesters] come to destroy, to injure, and to kill police officers and gendarmes. Their goals have nothing to do with pension reform. Their goals are to destabilize our republican institutions and bring blood and fire down on France,” stated Darmanin on Monday.
Although, there may be fault on both sides according to some of Macron’s political opponents, who state the police have been using excessive force in order to subdue the protesters. Many of these same opponents, along with union leaders, are urging Macron to back down to cool tensions and allow for some mediation. However, government spokesman Olivier Veran responded stating that backing down wasn’t necessary for there to be effective communication between the government and the strikers.
“The use of force can only be done if necessary, and in a proportionate manner. I am very worried about what I observe in the escalation of violence. And we will need a de-escalation. It is the responsibility of the state,” said Claire Hédon, the current Defender of Rights.