Pension protests pile pressure on Macron ahead of crucial vote for France

French President Emmanuel Macron faces a critical test on Monday when the National Assembly is due to examine no-confidence motions filed after his government bypassed parliament on Thursday to push through a deeply unpopular pension reform, sparking days of unrest.


The move, which followed weeks of protests against the pension overhaul, triggered three nights of unrest and demonstrations in Paris and throughout the country, reminiscent of the Yellow Vest protests that erupted in late 2018 over high fuel prices. 

In a statement issued Sunday from his office to AFP, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed hope that "the text on pensions can go to the end of its democratic journey". This will in all likelihood happen, as Monday's votes may put on display anger at Macron's government, but are unlikely to bring it down. 

Opposition lawmakers filed two motions of no confidence in parliament on Friday.

Centrist group LIOT proposed a multiparty no-confidence motion, which was cosigned by the left-wing NUPES (New Ecological and Social People’s Union) coalition. Hours later, France's far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally or RN) party, which has 88 National Assembly members, also filed a no-confidence motion.

But even though Macron's party lost its absolute majority in the lower house in elections last year, there was little chance the multi-party motion would go through – unless a surprise alliance of lawmakers from all sides is formed, from the far left to the far right.

>> The Debate: French government overrides parliament over pensions, at what cost?

The leaders of the conservative Les Républicains (LR) party have ruled out such an alliance. None of them sponsored the first no-confidence motion filed on Friday.

But the party still faced some pressure.

Reacting to acts of intimidation against deputies backing the government's reform and violent protests that included attacks on official buildings this weekend, the statement from Macron's office added that the president backed government measures to protect elected representatives.

Two leading members of the LR party, whose leader has said they will not support the no-confidence motions, reported threats and intimidation against them Sunday.



Macron's overhaul raises the minimum retirement age by two years to 64, which the government says is essential to ensure the system does not go bust.

"I think there will be no majority to bring down the government. But this will be a moment of truth," Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Le Parisien newspaper, commenting on prospects for Monday's votes.

"Is the pension reform worth bringing down the government and political disorder? The answer is clearly no. Everyone must take their responsibilities," he added.

‘We’re being trampled on’

Macron put the pension reform at the centre of his successful re-election campaign last year, but he lost his parliamentary majority in subsequent polls – in part because of opposition to his pension plans.

>> Bitter pension battle turns to democratic crisis as Macron bypasses French parliament

Critics say the planned changes are unfair for people who start working at a young age in physically challenging jobs, and for women who interrupt their careers to raise children.

Opinion polls suggest more than two-thirds of the French oppose the reform, while Macron's popularity has plummeted to just 28 percent, according to a poll published on Sunday by the Journal du Dimanche.

Police on Saturday banned gatherings on a key Paris square opposite parliament after two nights of unrest at the site.

However, thousands of protesters rallied in another part of the capital, some erecting barricades in the street, setting rubbish bins on fire and smashing advertising boards.

Security forces charged at the demonstrators and fired tear gas and water cannon at Place d'Italie. A police source said officers had arrested 81 people at or near the location.



There were protests in other towns and cities after regional unions called for a weekend of demonstrations.

Ariane Laget, 36, was among around 200 people demonstrating in the small southern town of Lodève.

"We're fed up," she said. "We feel like we're being trampled on, and no one is listening."

Thousands took to the streets in the western city of Nantes, where one placard read, “Death to the king”, in an apparent reference to the president.

Some protesters lobbed bottles at members of the security forces who retaliated with tear gas, an AFP photographer said.

Unions have called for another day of nationwide strikes and rallies on Thursday.

Meanwhile, rubbish collectors in Paris have kept up a rolling strike, leaving an estimated 10,000 tonnes of trash festering in the streets.

A union representative on Saturday said strikers at three incinerators outside Paris would let some garbage trucks through "to limit the risk of an epidemic".

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters)