Macron in France: defiant but weakened after the pension fiasco

French President Emmanuel Macron may be on the verge of enacting his cherished pension reform, but analysts see it as a Pyrrhic victory that will leave him politically weakened.

After failing to find a parliamentary majority to make changes to the National Assembly, the 45-year-old leader on Thursday decided to engage the controversial executive branch, which allows the government to push laws through parliament without a vote.

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

But Macron’s decision to invoke the notorious Article 49.3 for such an important reform was seen by critics as both a sign of weakness and an abuse of power.

“There is a feeling that the government does not listen to the people, and in addition they do not listen, but they are behaving violently in the National Assembly,” said Antoine Bristiel, a political analyst at the Paris-based think tank Fondation Jean-Jaures. AFP.

Polls show that about two in three French people oppose raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Macron’s minority government will now face a vote of no confidence next week, which it will likely survive, leaving the president to simply sign the law.

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“Assuming the opposition parties don’t topple the government, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for Emmanuel Macron,” warned Stefan Zumstig, head of public opinion in France at opinion group Ipsos.

“Even if the law is passed, a very damaged relationship between the French public and the president will be left as a legacy,” he added.

– Humility? –

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

He seems to have learned that executive power has limits, in 2018, when a violent anti-government insurgency by Yellow Vest protesters rocked the country, much of the anger was directed at himself and his blunt nature.

After defeating far-right leader Marine Le Pen in April and being elected to a second term, he admitted in a modest victory speech that many people voted for him simply to keep Le Pen from power.

He promised a “new method” that would include greater consensus-building and consultation, saying shortly after his inauguration in May that the French people were “tired of top-down reforms.”

When elections for the National Assembly in June led to the first parliament in more than two decades, analysts saw the result as a sharply divided country deliberately limiting Macron’s power.

“He talked about more humility, more consultation, less top-down, more listening to people, and in fact he did just the opposite,” Zumstig said.

Macron did not make public comments on Thursday — and has not given press conferences, media interviews or speeches on the reform since it was unveiled in January.

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In comments shared with the media, the former investment banker reportedly favored the use of Article 49.3 because not implementing the changes “is too great a financial and economic risk.”

The government is counting on raising the retirement age to save billions of euros a year to help reduce rampant government borrowing, with its credibility in the financial markets and its European partners at stake.

Most of France’s EU allies have already raised the age limit to 65 and above.

– Macron “plays with fire” –

The big question for Macron is what he can achieve in the remainder of his term, which runs until 2027, when he will be forced to step down after serving two mandates.

“In terms of healthcare, the green transition or immigration, there could be room for reform,” political scientist and writer Brice Teinturier told AFP.

Others are more pessimistic.

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

Other usually loyal legislators openly disagree, insisting that the government should have arranged for a vote on the bill even if it risked losing.

Bigger questions for the country are whether Macron will now provoke another round of violent and costly protests — and whether he has increased the chances of Le Pen and her National Rally party coming to power.

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

According to political communications expert Emily Zapalski, the episode will “fuel the National Rally vote.”

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