Protests Erupt Across France After Government Forces Through Pension Reform, Raising Retirement Age

Protests erupted across France on March 17 after French President Emmanuel Macron’s government invoked a special constitutional power allowing him to push through controversial pension reforms that raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Thousands of people gathered in the capital Paris after French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced the use of Article 49.3—which allows the government to pass a bill without a vote by lawmakers—to push the pensions reform bill through.

The move triggered widespread protests that quickly turned violent, with police using tear gas and water cannons to clear protesters on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, where some 7,000 people had gathered and a fire was lit, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported. Buildings, including shop windows and bank fronts, were also damaged, according to reports.

Reuters reported that some police officers were hit with cobblestones during the protests. Around 217 people were arrested on suspicion of seeking to cause damage, Paris police said.

Video footage that aired on local television showed large crowds gathered at Place de la Concorde chanting while multiple fires burned, sending thick clouds of smoke into the air.

Demonstrators also took to the streets in other cities such as Marseille, Rennes, Nantes, and Lyon following the announcement, according to reports.

Vote of No-Confidence Largely Expected

Protests across France have been ongoing since the plan was first reported in January. Nearly 500,000 people protested against the bill across the country on Wednesday, prior to the decision.

However, the protests turned more violent after Borne made the announcement of the triggering of Article 49.3, just hours after the Senate, France’s upper house, adopted the reform plan Thursday morning in a 193–114 vote.

That vote was largely expected as the conservative majority of the Senate predominantly favors a higher retirement age, however, the outcome of a vote in the National Assembly was unclear, promoting the government instead to use the special constitutional power.

The move is expected to trigger a quick no-confidence motion in Macron’s government. Lawmakers have 24 hours to file such a motion and if it is approved by more than half the seats, it will be rejected and the government would need to resign.

If not, the bill will be adopted and passed into law.

Marine Le Pen said Thursday her National Rally party would file a no-confidence motion.

“The use of 49.3 is a personal failure for Emmanuel Macron, a failure also for the government,” Le Pen wrote on Twitter. “We are therefore going to vote for the motions of censure to censure this government which has decided to go through with force to impose this reform.”

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Le Pen accused the French president of governing the country “with brutality.”

Leaders Voice Opposition

Leader of left-wing party La France Insoumise, Mathilde Panot, also took aim at the French president, writing on Twitter: “Macron’s brutality amazes beyond borders. In what other democracy does a single man decide against a whole people? Macron humiliates France in the eyes of the world.”

Meanwhile, union leaders who have opposed the retirement age, including the Confédération Générale du Travail, vowed to continue another day of strikes and demonstrations next week.

“By resorting to [constitutional article] 49.3, the government demonstrates that it does not have a majority to approve the two-year postponement of the legal retirement age,” Laurent Berge, the head of the CFDT, one of the unions leading the protests, wrote on Twitter.

Opposition lawmakers have also demanded the government step down.

Macron, who has argued that changes to the retirement age are essential to make the French economy more competitive, has not yet commented on Thursday’s decision and the subsequent protests.

His plan would raise the minimum age by two years gradually, increasing by three months every year, beginning in September until it reaches 64 in 2030.

“The aim is to balance the accounts without raising taxes or cutting pensions. Various options are on the table, but all include raising the retirement age,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told journalists in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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