France pension protests: clashes following Macron's order to raise the retirement age without a poll

Police and protesters have clashed in Paris after the French government decided to impose pension reforms without parliamentary approval. As a result of raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, crowds converged on Place de la Concorde. Two months of intense political debate and strikes were a result of the plans.

Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne finally invoked article 49:3 of the constitution, which allows the government to avoid a vote in the Assembly. The decision was made minutes before the controversial bill was to be put to a vote by the House of Representatives, because there was no assurance of gaining a majority. The move infuriated the opposition politicians. In parliament, many jeered the prime minister, sang La Marseillaise, and displayed protest signs. 

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right opposition, has suggested that a vote of no confidence will be filed against the government of President Emmanuel Macron.

Mathilde Panot, the leader of the French leftist party La France Insoumise (LFI), mentioned to sources that Mr. Macron had plunged the nation into a government crisis without parliamentary or popular legitimacy. Singing the national anthem and waving trade union flags, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Paris and other French cities to protest the decision.

As evening fell, a number of protesters clashed with law enforcement. The Place de la Concorde was set on fire, and police with shields and batons fired tear gas and cleared the area. By nightfall, Paris police informed sources that 120 people had been arrested.

The Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT) announced that an additional day of strikes and demonstrations is scheduled for March 23. Even though Mr. Macron was re-elected on a platform of pension reforms last year, his ruling coalition lacks a majority in the Assembly and would have required Republican support in order to pass the pension reforms. Officials from Mr. Macron's Renaissance party spent the morning frantically rallying members behind their legislation. 

Faced with the bill's obvious unpopularity, they knew some of their MPs would vote against it or abstain, so they resorted to special constitutional powers. However, whenever a government invokes 49:3, it can be certain that it will be immediately accused of trampling on the will of the people. In fact, it has been used exactly 100 times in the over 60 years of the Fifth Republic, and by governments of all stripes.

Clearly, it is utilized more frequently by governments that lack an inherent majority in parliament, such as the socialist government of Michel Rocard in the 1980s and Élisabeth Borne's government today. She has used this strategy on multiple occasions, but only for less controversial public finance bills.

The dispute renders France unreformable once more. In comparison to other European nations, the change to the retirement age is hardly dramatic. However, opponents frequently describe the bill as "brutal," "inhuman," and "degrading." 

In France, morale is low and declining, and retirement is viewed as a bright spot in the future. However, many believe that even this is being taken away by a government of the wealthy.