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Macron defiant but weakened after pension debacle

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron may be close to achieving his cherished pension system reform, but analysts see it as a Pyrrhic victory that will leave him politically weakened.

Unable to find a parliamentary majority for the changes in the National Assembly, the 45-year-old leader decided on Thursday to invoke a controversial executive power that allows the government to ram legislation without a vote through parliament.

Such a move would be unthinkable in many democracies but is legal under the 65-year-old French constitution, which concentrates power in the hands of the president at the expense of MPs.

But Macron’s decision to turn to the infamous Article 49.3 for such an important reform has been seen by critics as both a sign of weakness and an abuse of power.

“There is a sense that the government is not listening to the people, and on top of that they are not listening while they are being brutal in the National Assembly,” Antoine Bristielle, a political analyst at the Fondation Jean-Jaures, a Paris think tank, told AFP.

Polls show that around two in three French people are against raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Macron’s minority government now faces a no-confidence vote next week, which it will in all likelihood survive, leaving the president simply to sign the law.

“Assuming the opposition parties don’t overthrow the government, this is a Pyrrhic victory for Emmanuel Macron,” warned Stephane Zumsteeg, pollster in France for public opinion group Ipsos.

“Even if it comes into force, the legacy will be a very damaged relationship between the French public and the President,” he added.


Criticism of Macron’s style of government is nothing new.

He appeared to have learned of executive branch limitations in 2018 when a violent anti-government revolt by “yellow vest” protesters shook the country, with much of the anger directed at him and his aggressive personality.

After defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen to win a second term in April, he admitted in a modest victory speech that many people voted for him just to keep Le Pen out of power.

Promising a “new method” that would involve more consensus building and consultation, he said shortly after his inauguration in May that the French were “tired of top-down reforms”.

When June’s National Assembly elections stalled the first parliament in more than two decades, analysts saw the result as a deeply divided country that deliberately curtailed Macron’s authority.

“He talked about more humility, more consultation, less top-down, more listening, and in fact he did exactly the opposite,” Zumsteeg said.

Macron made no public comment on Thursday — and has not given a press conference, media interview, or speech on the reform since it was unveiled in January.

In comments informed to the media, the former investment banker is said to have agreed to the use of Article 49.3 because the “financial and economic risks are too great” if the changes are not made.

The government is banking on raising the retirement age to save billions of euros a year to bring down the galloping national debt, with its credibility in financial markets and with its European partners on the line.

Most of France’s EU allies have already raised the age to 65 or over.

‘playing with fire’

The big question for Macron is what he can achieve for the rest of his term, which runs until 2027, when he has to step down after two mandates.

“In the areas of health, green transition or immigration, there could be opportunities for reform,” political scientist and author Brice Teinturier told AFP.

Others are more pessimistic.

“I wonder if we can recover from this,” said an MP from the ruling party, asking not to be named.

Other normally loyal lawmakers are openly dissenting, insisting that the government should have organized a vote on the law even if they risked defeat.

The bigger questions for the country are whether Macron will now unleash another round of violent and economically costly protests – and whether he has increased the chances of Le Pen and her National Rally party coming to power.

The left-leaning newspaper Le Monde accused Macron of “playing with fire” in an editorial on Friday.

For Emilie Zapalski, a political communications expert, the episode will “nourish the vote for the National Assembly.”

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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