Five questions about the discontent behind France’s latest protest day

NOS News

  • Frank Renout

    correspondent France

  • Frank Renout

    correspondent France

In France, demonstrations are again today against the increase in the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. Last Thursday, similar protests got out of hand, with a lot of violence. Five questions about the protests and the political consequences.

How fierce will today’s protests be?

Friend and foe take riots into account. Many demonstrators are very angry with the government, there are many young people who are often more radical than the traditional trade unionists. And there are Black Bloc protesters: anti-capitalists who regularly cause destruction and attack the police.

5,500 agents are deployed in Paris alone. There are 13,000 in all of France. According to Interior Minister Darmanin, this effort is necessary because “far-left activists want to cause destruction, injure people and kill police officers”.

How many times have demonstrations been held and how many people always participate?

It is the tenth time that there is a national day of action and strike against the increase in the retirement age. The first was on January 19. Attendance varies each time. The authorities say that the number of participants fluctuates between 300,000 and 1.2 million, the unions speak of 1 million to 3.5 million participants.

President Macron has already passed the pension reforms, what do the protesters still want to achieve?

The law regulating the new retirement age has been officially adopted, but without a vote in parliament. Only the French Constitutional Court will rule on it: the court will test whether the law and its creation comply with the French constitution.

Many participants in the demonstrations say they will continue until the law is repealed. Union leader Laurent Berger President Macron proposed to “suspend” the law. “That gives us time to look for a social and intelligent compromise,” he said.

To this day, Macron wants nothing to do with a compromise. He insists on the reform because otherwise pensions would no longer be affordable due to the aging population.

More than 170 people were arrested in last week’s mass protests. Tensions ran high between the protesters and the police:


A lot of violence after police intervention in mass protests in France

What does this unrest mean for Macron’s future as president?

Politically and legally, Macron’s position is not at stake. He was re-elected last year for another five-year term. A French president can only be impeached, by the joint Senate and House of Representatives, if he ‘can no longer meet his legal obligations’, for example in case of illness.

What the opposition can and may do: send President Macron’s government home. Those are his prime minister and ministers. But none of the no-confidence motions that have been tabled so far have won a majority.

How widespread are the protests?

The national demonstrations always have a fairly fixed group of participants: members of trade unions, teachers, railway employees and other civil servants. The participation of French people from the business community is usually smaller: the unions have less supporters there.

Contrary to popular belief, the degree of unionization in France is remarkably low: only slightly more than 8 percent of employees are members of a trade union, against, for example, 16 percent in the Netherlands.

Yet the influence of the unions is great, because they are the permanent discussion partners of the government and negotiate on behalf of all employees and not just on behalf of their members.

All polls show that the vast majority of the French support the demonstrations and actions. They are also in large majority against raising the retirement age. A survey last week even showed that one in five French people support the use of violence, destruction and arson during the demonstrations.

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