Pension reform: No end to the turmoil in France

The dispute over the planned pension reform in France is escalating despite further concessions from the government. In the wake of massive protests Prime Minister Edouard Philippe presented a watered-down version of the controversial plans, but the strikes that started two weeks ago continue unabated. Commentators point to the lacking democratic legitimation of the negotiating partners.

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Politis (FR) /

Macron was elected, but not the reform

Politis calls for a referendum on the reform plans:

“In order to be accepted in a democracy, the authorities must be recognised as legitimate. ... Is the fact that the reform project appeared in Macron's election platform a democratic argument? Can the man who was elected in 2017 with 24 percent of the vote [in the first round] and then as a result of the widespread rejection of the National Front just do as he pleases? Of course not. We're all very aware that voting patterns are driven by different - and inevitably contradictory - motivations. So legitimacy sometimes needs to be confirmed, especially when almost a million people contest it on the street. Isn't it obvious that for a project that is upsetting our entire social order, a specific consultation, in other words a referendum, is needed?”

La Stampa (IT) /

Street protest vital and legitimate

The reason why protests quickly turn into popular uprisings in France is because there are no established means of mediation between the people and the state, sociologist Massimiliano Panarani comments in La Stampa:

“In a country where mediating institutions are considerably weaker - and less deep-rooted - than elsewhere in Europe, spontaneous uprisings are automatically legitimate because this is how people can make those in power listen to what they're saying. ... For that reason, on the other side of the Alps insurrection and uprising (and at times even violence) are seen as permissible and justified means of social protest.”

Slate (FR) /

Unions do not represent the majority

The unions have too much say, sociologist Denis Monneuse writes in Slate:

“The government is mostly (not to say exclusively) negotiating with the 'social partners', as if their legitimacy were beyond doubt. The fact is, however, that the unions have received no such mandate from the French people. They don't represent a majority or defend the general interest. In other words, the pension reform is too serious a matter to be entrusted to them. … The trade union confederations must be seen as lobbies, as pressure groups. ... In the spirit of the Fifth Republic, a subject as important and universal as pensions must above all be decided in parliament or through a referendum.”

Avgi (GR) /

Left benefiting from Macron's policies

The protest against the pension reform is binding together France's left, Avgi observes:

“The Socialist Party, the Communist Party, the Greens and others are drawing closer - without concealing their differences - to a common goal: getting the government to repeal the law. Tying in with this, over the next few days new joint actions are expected under the central slogan 'A different reform is possible'. ... This is the first time in many years that all statements of the leftists are forming a united front - a 'side-effect' of Macron's policies.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

An unprecedented political tragedy

France is on the brink of collapse, historian and political advisor Maxime Tandonnet notes with concern in Le Figaro:

“For the government team, the game is already lost no matter what the outcome. They refuse to back-pedal because that would be the end of the presidency. ... But the other scenarios are no better. ... Who can you believe and listen to after such a disaster? The opposition parties are also falling apart. The 'extremes' are constantly failing because of their crazy ideas and provocations. The right, experienced in government, is not shining with coherence and cohesion either. ... France has been plunged into unprecedented chaos and a sinister political vacuum. In the midst of this crisis of confidence the country urgently needs a higher moral authority, a visionary wisdom to unite it.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

A pleasant surprise

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has come up with a good compromise, Le Figaro writes approvingly:

“There was a great temptation in the storm sweeping across France to give in to those who saw the need to ensure balanced funding for pensions as being of secondary importance. ... The prime minister didn't take this easy route. The progressive introduction of a pivot age of 64 appears to be a reasonable compromise which ensures sustainable funding for our pensions. ... Finally, the reform programme aims to do away with the special regimes for which there is no longer any justification.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Macron has already lost

Macron will now have to decide between two evils, writes the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

“Either he'll push the reform through parliament without taking the moderate unions into account, in which case he'll come across as the divider of an already torn country. Or, after his first concessions on Wednesday, he'll also cede to demands that he renounce plans to lengthen working life, thus diluting the reform and perhaps sacrificing the prime minister. But in that case he would lose his key asset: his political identity as a fearless reformer. And without it, his voter base will turn away from him.”