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Anger Simmers in France as Opposition Files No-Confidence Motions

After President Emmanuel Macron pushed his unpopular pension bill through Parliament without a vote, demonstrations about the changes broke out again.
A protest on Friday blocked the traffic on the périphérique, the highway that circles Paris.Credit...Bertrand Guay/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A protest on Friday blocked the traffic on the périphérique, the highway that circles Paris.Credit...Bertrand Guay/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Opposition parties filed two no-confidence motions against President Emmanuel Macron’s government on Friday after his decision to push a widely unpopular pension bill through Parliament without a vote, even as protesters blocked roads and labor unions vowed more strikes.

Mr. Macron’s decision, announced by his prime minister on Thursday during a raucous session in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of Parliament, infuriated opponents of the bill, which would push back the legal age of retirement to 64, from 62. Overnight, violent demonstrations broke out in several French cities.

“It’s a Pyrrhic victory, one that continues to cause harm and that is accelerating a crisis instead of ending it,” said Danièle Obono, a legislator for the leftist France Unbowed party. “This is a social crisis that has become a democratic crisis.”

Under the rules of the French Constitution, the pension bill will become law unless a no-confidence motion against the government succeeds in the National Assembly. On Friday afternoon, several opposition groups said that they had agreed to back a broad no-confidence motion put forward by a small group of independent lawmakers.


 

French opposition MPs file multiparty no-confidence motion over pension reform

 

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That could allow legislators from both the left and far right to join in support of the motion, which they would be hesitant to do if it were put forward by either side.

The fragmentation of Mr. Macron’s opposition in Parliament has often prevented it from uniting behind a single motion in the past, and the one filed by independent lawmakers on Friday had a good chance of attracting more lawmakers than usual.

 
Lawmakers with white signs saying “64 ans, c’est non” in the French Parliament.
Members of the French National Assembly held paper signs saying “64 years, it’s a No” in the chamber on Thursday, referring to the proposed change in the age of retirement.Credit...Pascal Rossignol/Reuters


 
Lawmakers with white signs saying “64 ans, c’est non” in the French Parliament.
Members of the French National Assembly held paper signs saying “64 years, it’s a No” in the chamber on Thursday, referring to the proposed change in the age of retirement.Credit...Pascal Rossignol/Reuters


Still, it was not seen as very likely to succeed. Only a single no-confidence motion has succeeded in France since 1958, when the current Constitution was adopted.

“This is about being useful to our country by voting against this unfair and ineffective pension reform,” Bertrand Pancher, the head lawmaker in the independent group, told reporters at the National Assembly. “This is about preserving our parliamentary democracy, which has been besmirched, and social democracy, which has been scorned.”

A vote on that no-confidence motion, and any others that might be put forward on Friday, is expected in the coming days, most likely on Monday. The far-right National Rally party filed its own motion on Friday, too, though it has also said that its lawmakers would vote for motions filed by others.

The mainstream conservative Republican party, while divided over support for the pension bill, has portrayed itself as the party of stability and order, and is very reluctant to topple Mr. Macron’s cabinet. Their support is critical to passage of any no-confidence motion.

“We will never add chaos to chaos,” Éric Ciotti, the head of the Republicans, said on Thursday.

Mr. Macron’s decision to ram a highly contentious bill through Parliament has reinvigorated the monthslong protest movement against the retirement overhaul, which also increases the number of years workers have to pay into the system to get a full pension.

In Paris on Friday, a crowd of protesters from the C.G.T., or General Confederation of Labor, France’s second-largest labor union, briefly blocked access to the périphérique, the highway that circles the French capital, where many streets are still marred by heaps of trash because of an ongoing garbage collectors’ strike.

“The fight continues,” the C.G.T. said in a statement announcing the blockage.

 
Burning debris and makeshift wooden barriers blocking an entrance road, alongside C.G.T. union flags.
Blocking the access to oil terminals at a refinery in Donges, France, on Friday.Credit...Loic Venance/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


 
Burning debris and makeshift wooden barriers blocking an entrance road, alongside C.G.T. union flags.
A demonstration on Thursday on the Place de la Concorde in Paris after the French government pushed its pension overhaul through Parliament without a vote.Credit...Thomas Samson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images


The C.G.T. also announced that strikers would shut down an oil refinery in Normandy over the weekend, potentially disrupting fuel deliveries to gas stations, and teachers' unions said that they would strike next week during an exam period — fueling concerns of longer, more disruptive walkouts.

France’s main labor unions, who have kept an unusually united front in the showdown with the government, said that they were more determined then ever, and announced that they would organize a ninth day of nationwide protests and strikes next week, on March 23.

Catherine Perret, a top C.G.T. official who read from a joint statement on Thursday evening, accused the government of a “real denial of democracy” and said that the unions would continue “calm and determined actions” against the pension changes.

Mr. Macron’s government, which had insisted up until the very last minute that it wanted to go ahead with a vote on Thursday, is now scrambling to quell the anger and insisting it had no choice but to force through a bill that Mr. Macron sees as pivotal for France’s future.

 
A fire burns in the middle of a crowd gathered in a city square.
A demonstration on Thursday on the Place de la Concorde in Paris after the French government pushed its pension overhaul through Parliament without a vote.Credit...Thomas Samson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
 

Olivier Dussopt, the labor minister, told the BFMTV news channel on Friday that tallies before Thursday’s session suggested three to four votes were missing because some conservative mainstream lawmakers — whose support Mr. Macron needed — were missing from the count.

“But it is not a failure,” Mr. Dussopt said. “Because there is a bill, and this bill will be implemented if the no-confidence motion is rejected.”

Commentators were not as optimistic. The front page of Le Figaro, a conservative newspaper, said Mr. Macron was “weakened and isolated,” while Libération, a left-leaning daily, ran a close-up picture of Mr. Macron with the headline “His Fault.”

“The lesson for the government and for Emmanuel Macron is stark,” Le Monde, one of France’s leading newspapers, wrote in its editorial on Friday, adding there were “no reliable allies” for him in a National Assembly “dominated by the extremes,” making the situation “volatile, inflammable and dangerous.”

But by forcing the bill through, Mr. Macron runs the risk of “fostering a persistent bitterness, or even igniting sparks of violence,” the newspaper added.

The violent overnight protests around the country raised worries that opponents to the pension changes might turn to more radical tactics.

In Paris on Thursday, about 10,000 protesters had spontaneously gathered at the Place de la Concorde, across from the National Assembly, in a demonstration that was mostly peaceful.

But it took a far more violent turn when night fell and riot police cleared out the square, firing water cannons and tear gas at protesters who threw cobblestones and scattered into surrounding neighborhoods, lighting trash fires as they went. Other cities around France were also rocked by violent demonstrations overnight, including Rennes, Nantes, Lyon and Marseille.

 
Officers in riot gear in a city square. The Eiffel Tower can just be seen in the background.
French police officers responding to clashes that erupted on the Place de la Concorde on Thursday. Credit...Yoan Valat/EPA, via Shutterstock


 
Officers in riot gear in a city square. The Eiffel Tower can just be seen in the background.
French police officers responding to clashes that erupted on the Place de la Concorde on Thursday. Credit...Yoan Valat/EPA, via Shutterstock


Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, told RTL radio on Friday that over 300 people had been arrested around the country, most of them in Paris. He also said that he had asked the Paris police authorities to requisition garbage collectors to clear out mounds of trash that have been piling up in the French capital.

“Opposition is legitimate, demonstrations are legitimate,” Mr. Darmanin said. “But not chaos.”

Constant Méheut contributed reporting.

Author: Editors Desk

Source: N.Y Times

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