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French Pension Reform : Toward an Authoritarian Regime?

The French president is again accused of being arrogant, he is deaf to the demands of the demonstrators which only serves to further antagonise. While the anger of the street is unabating, the protest movement against the pension reform seems to be changing in nature. It is no longer only a question of rejecting the reform which plans to force the French people to work for two more years. It is also a criticism of the president often perceived as above ground, Jupiterian, far from the concerns of the people.


Thus the movement hardens, and the different social groups of the country unite to completely reject President Macron. Anger rages among the demonstrators. The government, feeling the wind turning, is now relying on police repression. Violence in the French streets is multiplying and police excesses are substantial, prompting concerns of authoritarianism.


The government feels the wind turning. The French discontentment is no longer limited to the use of Article 49.3 to force the raise of the retirement age from 62 to 64. The avenues for anger have multiplied. The French president is singled out for his lack of transparency regarding the need for this reform. Many French people fear the end of the current social model and denounce the exacerbated liberalist tendencies of Emmanuel Macron.

The environmental concern is now at the heart of the claims against Macron, with the mega basins project in Sainte Soline in the Deux-Sèvres being an example of this. It should be noted that all these events have allowed the re-emergence of questions surrounding police violence. French Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, is now in political turmoil with many of her critics calling for her resignation.





A Denial of Democracy?



On Wednesday, March 22, French President Emmanuel Macron attempted to calm the unease. While attempting to address the nation in search of appeasement, the opposite resulted and the anger of the demonstrators doubled, with a national strike due the following day. Indeed, the French did not appreciate the fact that the president questioned their cognitive abilities, arguing that if they were opposed to the reform it was essentially because they did not understand it.


However, the people have understood the reforms perfectly and refute the accusations of misunderstanding coupled with what they consider to be contempt on the part of the president. Indeed, the president is singled out for his lack of sincerity.


Emmanuel Macron is committed to presenting it in its current state, which does not pass with many demonstrators. The forced passage of the pension reform without a vote thanks to Article 49.3 of the French Constitution has made it possible to question the democratic nature of the Fifth Republic. This is the 100th use of article 49.3 under the Fifth Republic and the 11th time by the current Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne. She has already used it for the finance's bill in October. 

Although the president does not have full powers, opposition figures realise that there is little room for manoeuvre. The tabling of several motions of censure has proved ineffective. The president assures that he will follow through with the reforms, regardless of the number of demonstrators in the streets. This shocking statement is not in line with the guideline evoked by Emmanuel Macron during his re-election last April. Indeed, he acknowledged that his victory was essentially due to a popular front against the nationalist and populist threat represented by Marine Le Pen and her party, the National Rally (RN). He said he would compromise and try to convince all the French. Thus, his latest statements are perceived as intolerable among the French. Indeed, the abstention rate in the second round of the French presidential elections last year had reached record levels.


The Return of Police Violence?


The problem of verbally or physically aggressive police officers has been brought to the forefront of the conversation as a result of these reforms. The police are considered threatening by a large number of French people. Many videos showing peacekeepers acting outside of the security framework are flooding social networks. The police are violent and insulting. Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin continues to support and minimise police repression as a group of female students claim to have suffered gender-based and sexual violence frompolice officers while peacefully protesting against pension reform.


These examples of excessive force are reminiscent of the "yellow vest" crisis, a social movement that first fought against the rise of fuel prices before turning into a general movementof discontent against the president. This group has been violently suppressed. Many "yellow vests" were blinded, and some lost the use of one of their hands. An elderly woman had even been killed while she was on her balcony and did not participate in the "yellow vest" demonstration. The fear of demonstrating will no doubt deter hordes of French.


Regardless, the French people continue to make their demands heard by meeting in symbolic locations such as the case in Sainte-Soline, in the Deux-Sèvres (a region in the centre of France) where many environmental demonstrators protested against the installation of mega basins for agribusiness on Saturday, March 25. The protest movement ended dramatically with twenty-eight policemen wounded, seven demonstrators injured, two of whom are in critical condition, and two journalists also suffered gunfire as Le Monde explains.


The difficulties follow one after the other for the French government, which does not hesitate to be more and more repressive, prompting concerns of authoritarianism.

Edited by Sean Mulryan

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