APTOPIX France Pension Tensions

Garbage is set on fire by protesters after a demonstration in Paris on Thursday. Lewis Joly/Associated Press

PARIS — Angry protesters took over the streets in Paris on Friday, trying to pressure lawmakers to bring down French President Emmanuel Macron’s government and doom the unpopular retirement age increase he’s trying to impose without a vote in the National Assembly.

A day after Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoked a special constitutional power to skirt a vote in the chaotic lower chamber, lawmakers on the right and left filed no-confidence motions that are expected to be voted on early next week.

Crowds gathered throughout the day Friday, halting cars along a Paris ring road and blocking university campuses. Sanitation workers extended their 12-day strike, leaving piles of foul-smelling rubbish across the capital and blockading Europe’s largest incineration site.

Leaders of the influential leftist CGT union have called on people to leave schools, factories, refineries, and other workplaces to force Macron to abandon his plan to make the French work two more years, until 64, before receiving a full pension.

Macron took a calculated risk ordering Borne to invoke a special constitutional power that she had used 10 times before without triggering such an outpouring of anger.

If the no-confidence votes fail, the bill becomes law. If a majority agrees, it would spell the end of the retirement reform plan and force the government to resign, although Macron could always reappoint Borne to name the new Cabinet.


French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told radio station RTL on Friday that 310 people were arrested overnight, most of them in Paris, where police used a water cannon to clear thousands from the Place de Concorde. Small groups then moved through the area’s chic neighborhoods, setting street fires along the way.

Similar scenes repeated themselves in other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in eastern France to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed.

Some yellow vest activists, who mounted formidable protests against Macron’s economic policies during his first term, joined the rallies and called for a march on the parliament Friday evening.

Trade unions organizing the opposition urged demonstrators to remain peaceful during more strikes and marches in the days ahead.

“We are not going to stop,” CGT union representative Régis Vieceli told The Associated Press on Friday. He said overwhelming the streets with discontent and refusing to continue working is “the only way that we will get them to back down.”

Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is needed to make the French economy more competitive and to keep the pension system from diving into deficit. France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

Macron’s conservative allies in the Senate passed the bill, but frantic counts of lower-house lawmakers Thursday showed a slight risk it would fall short of a majority, so Macron decided to invoke the constitution’s Article 49-3 to bypass a vote.

Getting a no-confidence motion to pass will be challenging – none has succeeded since 1962, and Macron’s centrist alliance still has the most seats in the National Assembly. A minority of conservatives could stray from the Republican party line, but it remains to be seen whether they’re willing to bring down Macron’s government.

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