24. April 2023
It looks like France is severely divided, not within its population like it is generally the case for political subjects. This time, the fracture appears to be between Macron’s government and the rest of France. Is it the French pension system reform which is responsible for this dichotomy, or does it stand more in the way those changes have been conducted?
Why does the French pension system need to be reformed and what’s new?
France has a pension system prized, based on “solidarity between generations” – whereby the working population pays mandatory payroll charges to fund those in retirement. It allows all French workers to get a state pension. But as life expectancy continues to grow and as French demography tends to slow down, the funds of the French pensions are to be threatened. All the problem remains in the unbalance between the number of people retiring and the number of employees.
True enough, Macron had already intended to reform the system during his first mandate – however promising he would remain unchanged until the age of retirement – unsuccessfully, the pandemic forced him to delay the procedure. Yet in early January, this year, Elisabeth Borne, launched a new reform of the pension system, after several months of consultations with the social partners and political forces, facing a major wind of contestation from the National Assembly and the French people.
These contestations remain on two changes:
The text was presented to the Council of Ministers on January 23rd and examined in Parliament in February -March via a rectifying Social Security Financing Bill. Olivier Dussopt, the Minister of Labour, decided to activate the flexible legislative vehicle provided by the 47-1 Article, which tightened the debates to 50 days, in both rooms, leaving a very short amount of time, hard to respect. This choice wasn’t innocuous, as the executive wanted the debates to be accelerated and the text to take effect for September, fearing a dead end with a potential paralysis of the discussions.
The text was first examined by the National Assembly, the chamber most apprehended by the government as the opposition to the president’s party, the Republicans, is quite significant As planned the discussions around the text were very stormy and the deputies were only able to examine and amend the first 2 articles, unable to reach the 7th article concerning the famous gap of the 2 years’ departure. Unvoted, the text continued its journey to the Senate, where only 195 of the senators voted favorably, against 112 of them, that were against. The text had then to be studied by a commission reuniting equally 7 members of the Assembly and the Senat – as no agreements had been reached by both chambers. The new text had again to be voted by the assembly, the government fearing that the deputies would not validate the final bill, led the first Minister, on the 16 of March to make use of the 49.3, allowing the pension reform to pass without a vote in the Assembly. In response, the Assembly tabled several motions of censure, intending to overthrow the government and delay the promulgation of the text. As no motion gathered sufficient votes to be adopted, the pension’s reform has therefore been automatically validated.
The last step remaining in the pension’s file was very recently solved, on the 14th of April, as the constitutional French court gave its judgment. The “wise men” gave “two decisions”: one on the constitutionality of the bill adopted in Parliament after recourse to 49.3, and the other on the admissibility of the request for a shared initiative referendum (RIP) launched by the left. According to them, the report of the retirement age is legal, thus compatible with the French constitution, as much as the method employed to modify it. Moreover, the limitation of the proceedings is deemed admissible, and the sincerity of the debates is also confirmed. Finally, as expected the shared initiative referendum was rejected.
Consequences: more than a political and social crisis, is an institutional crisis to be worried?
Giving the last word to the French Citizens, could have made a big change for the reform’s fate. As, since the launching of the bill, more than a million of people have been protesting it, making this one of the most unifying social movements of the last three decades. And putting France, threw a major lockdown of its public services, with massive strikes paralyzing the country for weeks – streets weren’t anymore cleaned, and neither were the transports normally functioning. The anger was more and more palpable in the streets, particularly after the use of the 49.3 considered abusive. A general feeling of not being heard is growing among the French people. Statistics has put in evidence that two-thirds of the population did not want the text to pass while 74% support that the text passing forcedly via the 49.3, is unacceptable and illegitimate.
France could be facing a deeper crisis, according to some politicians and experts, therefore the forced passage of the text could have a high cost. The relationship between the government and the Parliament will probably be the most affected. After this, no text will be easy to negotiate in the hemicycle, between now and the end of the mandate. A perspective which, at the Élysée Palace, risks to make the idea of a dissolution spark. Even if it doesn’t reach those proportions, the disconnection between, the popular will and the country’s various political institutions will deeply offend the image of representative democracy. The difficulty for the French to have a parliament that meets their expectations is also confirmed in the failure of some political groups to be reasonable and able to witness compromises, even though it is what a large majority of the electorate wishes. However, the political parties seem to be far from it, two of them could particularly suffer from their displayed incapacity. Which stands for “La France Insoumise”, who’s opposition is judged to be too radical and not responsible enough. The President’s party is also pointed out, as can be felt a strong deception regarding the promises its members had made, to pursue this very logic of balance. Finally, on another hand, the syndicates are determined to ban E. Macron and his politic, as they have refused the last invitation of Macron, to discuss about the reform and its conduction.
Macron had made the institutional reform one of the projects of his second five-year term. It is quite possible that after all, this project will no longer be an option but imposed on him.