(AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron ordered his prime minister to wield a special constitutional power Thursday that skirts parliament to force through a highly unpopular bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a vote.
His calculated risk set off a clamor among lawmakers, who began singing the national anthem even before Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne arrived in the lower chamber. She spoke forcefully over their shouts, acknowledging that Macron’s unilateral move will trigger quick motions of no-confidence in his government.
The fury of opposition lawmakers echoed the anger of citizens and workers’ unions. Thousands gathered at the Place de la Concorde facing the National Assembly, lighting a bonfire. As night fell, police charged the demonstrators in waves to clear the elegant Place. Small groups of those chased away moved through nearby streets in the chic neighborhood setting street fires. At least 120 were detained, police said.
Similar scenes repeated themselves in numerous other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in the east to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed, according to French media. Radical leftist groups were blamed for at least some of the destruction.
The unions that have organized strikes and marches since January, leaving Paris reeking in piles of garbage, announced new rallies and protest marches in the days ahead. “This retirement reform is brutal, unjust, unjustified for the world of workers,” they declared.
Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is needed to keep the pension system from diving into deficit as France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.
Macron decided to invoke the special power during a Cabinet meeting at the Elysee presidential palace, just a few minutes before the scheduled vote in France’s lower house of parliament, because he had no guarantee of a majority.
“Today, uncertainty looms” about whether a majority would have voted for the bill, Borne acknowledged, but she said “We cannot gamble on the future of our pensions. That reform is necessary.”
“There will actually be a proper vote and therefore the parliamentary democracy will have the last say,” Borne said.
She said in an interview Thursday night on the TV station TF1 that she was not angry when addressing disrespectful lawmakers but “very shocked.”
Opposition lawmakers demanded the government step down. One Communist lawmaker called the presidential power a political “guillotine.” Others called it a “denial of democracy” that signals Macron’s lack of legitimacy.
𝑴𝒂𝒓𝒊𝒏𝒆 𝑳𝒆 𝑷𝒆𝒏 𝒔𝒂𝒊𝒅 𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒇𝒂𝒓-𝒓𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒕 𝑵𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒂𝒍 𝑹𝒂𝒍𝒍𝒚 𝒑𝒂𝒓𝒕𝒚 𝒘𝒐𝒖𝒍𝒅 𝒇𝒊𝒍𝒆 𝒂 𝒏𝒐-𝒄𝒐𝒏𝒇𝒊𝒅𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆 𝒎𝒐𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏, and Communist lawmaker Fabien Roussel said such a motion is “ready” on the left.
A no-confidence motion, expected early next week, needs approval by more than half the Assembly. If it passes — which would be a first since 1962 — the government would have to resign. Macron could reappoint Borne if he chooses, and a new Cabinet would be named.
If no-confidence motions don’t succeed, the pension bill would be considered adopted.
The Senate adopted the bill earlier Thursday in a 193-114 vote, a tally largely expected since the conservative majority of the upper house favored the changes.
Raising the retirement age will make workers put more money into the system, which the government says is on course to run a deficit. Macron has promoted the pension changes as central to his vision for making the French economy more competitive. The reform also would require 43 years of work to earn a full pension.