Macron calls for calm amid French pension fury ahead of crucial votes

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday he hoped his bitterly contested pension reform plan, imposed on parliament without a vote, could complete “its democratic journey”, a day before crucial votes in parliament.

The controversial legislation, which has led to months of protests in parliament and on the streets, will pass through parliament on Monday unless one of two no-confidence motions in government passes.

“After months of political and social consultation and more than 170 hours of debate which resulted in the vote on a compromise text between the (two parliamentary chambers)…”, Macron expressed his wish “that the text on the pensions can go to the end of his democratic journey with respect for all”.

His words came in a statement released by the president’s office to AFP.

If passed, Macron’s reform would raise the statutory retirement age from 62 to 64 as well as the number of years people must contribute to the system to receive a full pension.

The government’s decision last week to use Article 49.3 of the constitution to force the bill through parliament without a vote has sparked anger in the streets after weeks of mostly peaceful protests.

Two leaders of the right-wing Republican Party, whose leader said he would not support no-confidence motions, reported threats and intimidation against them on Sunday.

Monday’s two no-confidence motions were tabled by a small group of centrist MPs and the far-right National Rally.

If the no-confidence motions fall, as most observers expect, leftist MPs have said they will appeal to the Constitutional Council to challenge the way the government has imposed the reform.

“There won’t be a majority to bring down the government, but it will be a moment of truth,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said of the two attempts to overthrow the cabinet scheduled for Monday afternoon.

– ‘Growing resentment’ –

The government’s decision last week to use Article 49.3 of the constitution – which allows a bill to be forced through parliament without a vote – led to a fourth consecutive day of protests on Sunday.

“I am overwhelmed by a feeling of immense anger,” Isabelle Desprez, a 54-year-old mathematics teacher who is demonstrating in Lille, told AFP.

Laurent Berger, leader of the moderate CFDT union, told the newspaper Liberation: “We went from feeling despised to feeling angry, especially because we deprived the employees of the result of their protests”.

“The growing resentment and anger must serve the protests in a peaceful setting and not be politically exploited,” he added.

A ninth day of strikes and demonstrations is scheduled for Thursday.

Police on Saturday closed the Place de la Concorde in Paris opposite the Parliament for demonstrations after two successive nights of clashes.

Some 122 people were arrested as some set fire to rubbish bins, destroyed bus stops and erected improvised barricades around a protest of 4,000 people in the capital.

On Sunday, police arrested 17 other people as protesters invaded the Les Halles shopping complex in central Paris.

Away from the streets of major cities, the CGT said on Saturday that workers would close France’s biggest oil refinery in Normandy, warning that two more could follow on Monday.

So far, strikers have only stopped fuel deliveries from leaving refineries, but not completely halted operations.

Industrial action has also halted garbage collection across much of Paris, with thousands of tonnes of rubbish now on the streets, even as the government forces some garbage collectors back to work using requisition powers.

The government says pension reforms are needed to avoid crippling deficits in the coming decades linked to France’s aging population.

“Those of us who can will have to gradually work harder to fund our social model, which is one of the most generous in the world,” Le Maire said.

But opponents of the reform say the law places an unfair burden on low-income people, women and people in physical jobs, and polls have consistently shown majorities opposed to the changes.

On Monday, more than half a million high school students will start the first day of the 2023 baccalaureate exams, against the backdrop of threats of strikes by supervisors.



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