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One of the most surprising party switches in recent years was the decision of Andrea Kotarac, in 2019, to move from La France Insoumise, the far-left party of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, to Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National.  To be sure, his move seemed to support the 



Heetch began in Paris as a niche ride-sharing business: featuring young drivers, it operated only late at night and early into the morning on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.  The name came from “hitch,” as in hitchhike, pronounced as the French would pronounce it.[1] The 

The Organizers of the Sainte-Soline Demonstration

The Organizers of the Sainte-Soline Demonstration

The protest at Sainte-Soline on March 25, 2023, was planned by three environmental and  peasant/farmer groups (peasant is a term defiantly preferred by some): Bassines non merci, Confédération paysanne, and Les Soulèvements de la Terre.

Bassines non merci! (bassines, no thanks!) describes its mission as especially local to Deux-Sèvres.  Their website includes the following description: “We are a citizens’ collective named “Bassines Non Merci,” which has fought for five years against a project for 19, then 16 réserves de substitution (called “bassines”) for agricultural irrigation in southern Deux-Sèvres.  We also have sites in Vienne and Charente-Maritime.  [Both are nearby departments where the bassines are being built; all three are in the Région Nouvelle Aquitaine; see map below.] This project will seriously impact the valley of the Sèvres niortaise (a branch of the river Sèvres) and the Poitevin Marais.” 

They call out the lobbying, the public money spent in the service of private “productivist agriculture” [high intensity, high pesticides, production for a global market] which ignores the environment, and they are not strictly limited to farmers as members.  Their mode of organization results from their determination to mobilize passionate local opposition in the area where such projects are being built, and to attract the attention of climate activists to these massive intrusions in a mostly rural part of France.[1] 

Julien Le Guet, the founder and spokesman of BNM, and recently referred to as an “ecoterrorist” by Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, has cast his long-term struggle as a mission to protect water as a common good:  “We are trying to make [people] understand that this is not only a Charente issue, but a matter of national import.”  He is professionally a boatman who takes tourists through the marshes, a job he has been doing since the age of 14.  He started BNM in 2017, when the project of construction of sixteen (originally nineteen) bassines in Deux-Sèvres was settled, with a budget of 59 million euros.[2]  In the flurry of controversial actions in the early Macron administration, this decision got relatively little national attention.  On the morning of March 25, he was briefly interviewed in the midst of the tractors and people who had come to the site, and he can be heard shouting, “They’re here!” At the end, we see the construction site.

The Confédération paysanne, a farmers’ union, defines its mission in this way: “The Confederation paysanne fights against an agricultural model which leads to economic domination by a few hyperproductive and hyperconcentrated models, just as it is opposed to a vision of hobby farming [“agriculture paysagère ou de loisir”].  The peasants/farmers have a mission that only they can fill: to feed people.  Their labor has value and should assure them a just revenue.”[3]

The Confédération issued a joint press statement, with the other two groups, on the day following the protest, challenging the government’s portrayal of the event.  These included the dispute over numbers (6,000 according to the Prefecture; 30,000 according to the organizers).  Though the government stated that the protesters had been kept from reaching the bassine, still under construction, they did indeed reach the pump and dismantle it; and they also planted more than 300 meters of hedges in the region, “a major means of retaining water in the soil.”  

They argued, as well, that the police had deliberately delayed an ambulance for one of their wounded, which the government has since denied.  And finally, they detailed the injuries, both from LBDs and from explosive tear gas grenades (called GM2L grenades) which had been responsible for one of the worst head injuries.  Beyond that, one person was in danger of losing an eye, while “a lot” of people had suffered perhaps life-changing injuries to limbs and faces.They ended with a renewed demand for the halting of the construction and for “the opening of a dialogue on the preservation and sharing of water.”[4]

Les Soulèvements de la terre (The Uprisings of the Land, or the Earth) is not limited to bassines, but generally to capitalist threats to the environment; nor are they a large central organization, but rather a collective of local groups: “We rise up, each in our locality, each in our own way.”

A few days after the protest, on March 29, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced that he was beginning the process of formal dissolution of the group.  They responded immediately, arguing that this was the action of a government that was terrified of its own weakness: “This announcement is targeted to respond to the deluge of criticisms about the deplorable handling of maintaining order in France for some weeks [i.e., the retirement protests] . . . . The dissolution, this new maneuver of the minister of the Interior to try to make [the country] forget the brutal repression that he orchestrated is a little too crude. . . . What we understand, from the thread of interventions of the ministers of this government, is that they seem to have decided, carried away by their own agitation, to describe as “ultra-Left” everyone that puts an obstacle in their way.”[5] 

The participants and organizers, then, were a farmers’ union of long standing, and a citizens’ environmental activist group attempting to protect their locality. And then there was a deliberately unorganized environmental group composed of small groups–unable to be dissolved, as they pointed out, because one could not get them all: a common organizational pattern among revolutionary groups from the nineteenth century on. But another common pattern, of late, is the ZADiste movement, and that above all is what Darmanin seems determined to prevent, no matter the cost.

ZAD stands for Zone à défendre–a place to defend–and was famously carried out, in a years-long battle (most intensely from 2012 to 2018, when the government gave up) over plans to build a large new airport near Nantes, in a largely rural area (just to the north of Nouvelle Aquitaine, in the Pays de la Loire region). Protestors at Notre-Dame-des-Landes built a makeshift settlement on the site and lived there, thus halting construction. The attempt by protestors to get to the Sainte-Soline mégabassine under construction was what the battle of March 25 was about.

On April 1, in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche, Interior Minister Darmanin announced his plans to create an anti-Zadiste specialty unit within his forces: “No ZAD will install itself again in our country.” Asked abut the extreme violence of the struggle, he answered, “I refuse to cede to the intellectual terrorism of the extreme Left, which consists of reversing values: the casseurs [violent protesters] become the aggressed against and the police the aggressors. . . . When the police use legitimate force, which can obviously be muscular, that [usage] is to respond to extremely violent attacks of professional casseurs, who are there to destroy property, or, worse, to ‘kill a cop (flic).’”[6]


Header image from


Their website:

[2] Laury-Anne Cholez, “Julien Le Guet, l’homme qui fait trembler les mégabassines,” Reporterre. January 3, 2023.

[3] Here is their press dossier for the bassines, and here is their homepage, quotation from “Qui Sommes-Nous.”

[4] Confédération paysanne, “Ce qui s’est vraiment passé à Sainte-Soline malgré les mensonges de la préfecture et du ministre de l’Intérieur.”’est%20vraiment%20pass%C3%A9%20%C3%A0%20Sainte-Soline%20malgr%C3%A9%20les%20mensonges%20de%20la%20pr%C3%A9fecture%20et%20du%20ministre%20de%20l’Int%C3%A9rieur.pdf


[6] Jérôme Bèglé, Sarah Paillou, David Revault d’Allones, “Gérald Darmanin au JDD,” Le Journal du Dimanche,” April 1, 2023.

The Water War, Part II

The Water War, Part II

The demonstrations at Sainte-Soline failed.  That is the inevitable conclusion as we see the coverage of the event monopolized by its violence–by the police, on one side; by the “ultra-left” on the other.  The conservative Valeurs actuelles opined, before the event, that “antifa” members were 

The Water War of Sainte-Soline

The Water War of Sainte-Soline

At least 100 were wounded by late afternoon, according to the “street medics,” volunteers setting up impromptu field hospitals, who also appeared during the Gilets jaunes uprising.  By evening, the organizers of the demonstration said there were at least 200 wounded, of whom ten were 

Michel Debré (1912-1996) and Article 49.3

Michel Debré (1912-1996) and Article 49.3

Natacha Polony, in an editorial in Marianne, began her criticism of Macron by quoting Michel Debré, who was responsible for guiding the constitution of the Fifth Republic into its final form.  A long-time associate of De Gaulle, he then became his first prime minister when De Gaulle was elected, in 1958, as the first president.  Polony quotes Debré in a 1958 interview about the constitution, and particularly about the relationship between the president and the Parlement.  “‘The essence of democracy is conflict,’ [Debré] began.  ‘There is no conflict in a dictatorship.’  He then explained that the role of the president is to regulate these conflicts justly, by different tools, the recourse to the Conseil Constitutionnel, the  referendum or dissolution [of the National Assembly for new elections] . . . . ‘The only sovereignty, is the people, and the president of the Republic makes his appeal to them in case of conflict [through the referendum, which then was the prerogative solely of the President.]  There is no method more democratic and more liberal, if one wants to remain in a regime of liberty.’”  Polony then went on to state that Macron’s mistake was to use these constitutional tools to “avoid the will of the citizens (my emphasis).”[1]  But the sovereign will of the people, and the question of who embodies it or can speak for it, seems to have been a part of the reason for this most contested aspect of the constitution from the very beginning. Once again, France looked back, for better or worse, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s General Will.

Michel Debré (1912-1996) was a soldier in World War II.  Captured by the Germans, he then escaped and joined the Free French Forces of General De Gaulle in 1942, thus beginning a long association with him.  In 1944, he became the  representative in Angers of the government set up by De Gaulle as successive parts of France were liberated; the General was determined to have Frenchmen take over the bureaucracy, the local governments, and the courts, rather than an American occupation force.  Debré served in a number of post-war commissions and ministries until elected as Senator for Indre-et Loire, a position he held from 1948 to 1958.  He believed the Fourth Republic (1946-1958) to be fatally flawed because of its proportional system of representation and lack of a strong executive.  The proportional system, in his view, allowed the fragmentation of political representation, potentially depriving the executive of a stable majority.  The president of the Fourth Republic, as in the Third Republic, had mostly symbolic powers; executive power resided in the prime minister, who was dependent, however, on his ability to form coalitions among the multiple parties.  In the twelve years of the Fourth Republic, there were twenty-four cabinets under sixteen different prime ministers. [2]

Debré was an essential part of De Gaulle’s return to power in 1958, as a result of the crisis in Algeria and the revolt of some members of the army, who believed that the government would hand over Algeria to the rebels.  “More Gaullist than de Gaulle,” as it was said, he was instrumental in putting De Gaulle’s principles into the new constitution, and served as his first prime minister.  He strongly supported De Gaulle’s drive to make France part of the nuclear club, but disagreed with the decision to end Algeria’s ties with France with the Evian Accords of 1962.  He resigned from his position in that year, though later served as Minister of Defense

in Prime Minister Georges Pompidou’s cabinet.[3]

De Gaulle was deeply disappointed in the constitution of the Fourth Republic, and had retired from public life late in 1946. Before that, however, he had tried to influence the direction of the country.   On June 14, 1944, eight days after D-Day, De Gaulle had gone to Bayeux, one of the first towns to be liberated; on June 16, 1946 (the new constitution was passed in October, 1946), he went to Bayeux again, and delivered a speech in which he called for “new democratic institutions.”  The executive power could not be based in the legislative branch of the parliament, as it had been under the Third, and soon under the Fourth, Republics; the executive power could not be dependent on the party politics of the National Assembly: “To [the head of state] the mission of naming the ministers, first of all the Prime Minister, who should direct the politics and the work of the government;  . . . to the head of state the task of serving as arbiter above political contingencies, in normal times through the Council or, in moments of grave confusion, in inviting the country to make known, through elections, its sovereign decision [the president can dissolve the parliament and ask the sovereign people to vote, in other words]; to him, if it should happen that the homeland is in peril, the duty to be the guarantor of national independence and of the treaties concluded by France.” The executive would not, then, be a figurehead, nor would he be caught up in the heat of politics; the latter would be left to the prime minister.  The President would be the ultimate safeguard, in times of peril and in times of mere “confusion.”[4]

It was Debré, in 1958, who created 49.3.  In an interview just days before the referendum on the new constitution,[5] Debré was asked if the president might be tempted to misuse his power.  Debré read the first paragraph of Article 16, which listed the safeguards against arbitrary, dictatorial action by the president:

Where the institutions of the Republic, the independence of the Nation, the integrity of its territory or the fulfilment of its international commitments are under serious and immediate threat, and where the proper functioning of the constitutional public authorities is interrupted, the President of the Republic shall take measures required by these circumstances, after formally consulting the Prime Minister, the Presidents of the Houses of Parliament and the Constitutional Council.[6]

Debré did not in his interview mention article 49.3 as a part of the president’s power–but that’s because it is supposed to be the prerogative of the Prime Minister.  It was the prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, who invoked the article, not Macron (as he carefully stated in his recent interview).  Yet no one doubts that it is Macron who wants a change in the retirement system–he ran on it, in both of his elections for  president.  And while putting the article in the hands of the prime minister was meant to protect the president, even as his prime minister might be replaced (much in the manner of the old regime, when one could blame the king’s “bad advisors” for unpopular decisions), that attempt at a strict separation within the  executive branch clearly doesn’t quite work.  

Just as importantly, the attempted restriction of the use of the 49.3 to financial/social security matters doesn’t really work either, since virtually everything that costs money can fall under the heading of “financial.”  Indeed, Debré himself, as prime minister, used 49.3 in 1960 to direct France’s nuclear research and development into a military “force de frappe”–an independent [of NATO] nuclear strike force, a decision that had broad implications, well beyond the financial.  

In total, Article 49.3 has been used 100 times, including Borne’s eleven deployments of it in less than a year in office.[7] When used wisely–as Debré certainly intended–it can prevent paralysis in government.  But it requires of officeholders a genuine willingness to listen, rather than a reflexive assumption that whatever they want, is the sensible, “realistic”, “courageous” choice.


[1] Natacha Polony, “Réforme des retraites: Emmanuel Macron, le peuple et les marchés financiers,” Marianne, March 23, 2023.

[2]John D. Huber and Cecilia Martinez Gallardo, “Cabinet Instablity and the Accumulation of Experience: The French Fourth and Fifth Republics in Comparative Perspective,” British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 34, No. 1 (January 2004), pp. 27-48; citation from p. 27.

[3] Partly taken from Alan Riding, Obituary, The New York Times, August 3, 1996.

[4] De Gaulle’s first trip to Bayeux, ttps://; and “Discours prononcé par le géneral de Gaulle à Bayeux (Calvados),” June 16, 1946.

[5] Debré’s interview in 1958.

[6] French Fifth Republic constitution (in English):

[7] Assemblée nationale, “Engagements de responsabilité du Gouvernement et motions de censure depuis 1958,”

Macron’s Word Salad

Macron’s Word Salad

The retirement bill in France, passed by Article 49-3 of the constitution, has become the law.  LIOT’s motion of censure, put forward on Monday, March 20, failed by nine votes.  It is not true, as Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne suggested, that the censure was a 

Charles de Courson and the Censure

Charles de Courson and the Censure

Charles de Courson, age 70, has been a member of the National Assembly since 1993, representing a district in the Marne department. He is an expert in finance, and serves on that Committee. From 1986 to 2017, he was mayor of Vanault-les-Dames (current population 417)[1], 

Retirement: The News in France, I

Retirement: The News in France, I

Much of the newspaper coverage since the forced passage of the retirement bill has concerned the demonstrations, tear gas, and violence.  But there have also been thoughtful pieces about the future of the government of Elisabeth Borne (not hopeful) and concerns about Macron’s next four years and the future of the Fifth Republic itself.  Is article 49.3 a fatal flaw that has allowed a president to impose his will?  (Think about January 6 and the possibilities if such a constitutional shortcut  had existed in the United States.)  These next few posts will take a look at some of the major national and regional papers and their coverage, as well as individual statements from Deputies and Senators.

Le Monde.  The night of March 17, 2023, saw a major demonstration on the Place de la Concorde (the “new Bastille,” as someone called it) and in other major cities.  The police used tear gas.  Those of the inner circle, meeting at the Élysée, were exhausted, on edge; the luckiest was perhaps the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, in charge of keeping order and able to take direct action.  He had ordered prefects to “contain the demonstrations, avoid the ‘zadisation’* of places, protect the symbols of the Republic, be attentive to barriers on the roads and the cutting off of electricity. . . . The forces of order should also call the legislators to find out if they need protection.”  

Those close to the president were putting out the word that he had “no regrets”; he would have preferred not to do this, but faced with “two bad choices,” he had decided that it would be worse to let this bill go down to defeat.  Those around him have agreed that he needs to speak to the nation: but to say what?  And it seems generally agreed that Borne will be in power at least for a few days, but will soon go, whether the censure vote succeeds–in which case she is legally bound to go–or whether the censure vote fails, because she has become a liability.  

The reporter notes that their plans for this term included reforms in justice, immigration, a bill on “full employment”; for the last, it is required (by law) that the ministers sit down with Union leaders.  The only hope there is Laurent Berger, of the moderate CFDT, who is, of course, one of those currently leading and planning for additional strikes.  Those at the Élysée believed that dissolution of the Assembly was still a possible solution after a successful motion of censure, noting that they didn’t think the 61 LR members–whose leader, Éric Ciotti, has said that they will not vote for censure–would want to face the electorate, though they would be no more vulnerable than Renaissance candidates.[1]

Valeurs actuellesJordan Bardella, the president of the Rassemblement National, announced that in the event of a dissolution, the RN would not put up any candidates against those LR deputies who had voted “with us” on the motion of censure.[2]  The RN is introducing a censure motion, but there is at least one other censure motion in play; “with us” may prove to be an important qualification.

Photo of Le Figaro, newspaper
Photo 127421344 © Dennizn |

Le Figaro.  In addition to reports of a Paris demonstration starting at the Place d’Italie, they published an angry editorial from the editor of the opinion page.  In his view, what was happening was a “sinister ritual of destruction” of the radical Left: “62 or 64 years, what does it matter?  The sole objective is to humiliate the State and to demolish it.”  There was total impunity for the Left (though not for the Right) and it was reinforced by the media: “The demonstration is not ‘illegal’, it is ‘spontaneous.’  Don’t talk of ‘violent acts,’ but rather of the expression of ‘anger.’  A pillaging?  No, some ‘incidents,’ at worst some ‘damage.’”  Macron’s real fault was not in using 49-3, “but rather of having failed to reduce these destructive forces in [the past] six years.”[3]

L’Est Républicain led with an exclusive interview by a MoDem deputy, Richard Ramos–significant, because the MoDems are part of Macron’s governing coalition, and his anger indicates the precariousness of that coalition.  Indeed, four of the cabinet ministers are MoDems; François Bayrou, the leader of the group and former presidential candidate, joined Macron in 2017.  Ramos, perhaps anticipating a dissolution, wanted to make it clear that he had opposed the retirement reform.  He stated that the Borne government needed to go; what they needed were ministers who were in touch with the people, “and not a band of arrogants  who explain to the French why they are idiots and why they themselves are right.”[4]

La République du centre.Stéphanie Rist, a Renaissance deputy and rapporteur of the law, invited union members to her office in the Loiret.  From the photo, it looked as if only a few, from the CFDT and CGT, had attended.  It did not go especially well.  “I will continue to listen to all those who wish it and remain determined to defend a reform that is necessary to preserve our system of retirement.”

Libération’s reporter, Damien Dole, had been given permission to observe the “general assembly” of the union leaders of the incinerator of Issy-les-Moulineaux (Hauts-de-Seine), the largest in Europe: they recycle, burn garbage, and turn it into energy.  The reporter noted considerable pride in their unexpectedly large role in the media coverage of the crisis.  They voted unanimously on a slowdown–eighty trucks per day, as opposed to the usual 400.  The incinerator of Saint-Ouen (Seine-Saint-Denis) is doing the same.  That will be the plan, until the next General Assembly meeting on Tuesday, March 21.  Marc Bontemps of the CGT exulted that their strike action was bigger than 1995 [an earlier attempted retirement reform], adding, “It’s historic, what we’re living through here!”  Four deputies from La France Insoumise brought 10,000 euros for the strike fund, which they had raised on the Internet; cars driving by honked their support as they saw the picket line. 

Vincent Pommier, a 27 year old electrical technician, spoke of the physical and emotional stress of his job–the heat, the noise, the vibrations, the general unhealthiness.  “When you go into the pit, you stay there only two hours but in the evening, you wash three times.  There are dirty diapers, expired food, worms . . .”  He did not know when he would retire from this, “but I know for certain that I will leave broken.”[5]


Header Photo 103558420 © Ifeelstock |

[1] Matthieu Goar, “Réforme des retraites: Emmanuel Macron face à l’avenir incertain de son quinquennat,” Le Monde, March 18, 2023.  *ZAD refers to Zone à défendre, and refers to the practice of seizing particular areas, especially environmentally important ones, and squatting there to protect them.

[2] “Retraites: le RN ne présentera pas de candidats face aux députés LR ayant voté la motion de censure, en cas de dissolution,” Valeurs actuelles, March 18, 2023.

[3] Vincent Trémolet de Villers, “Incendies, violences . . . L’incroyable sentime d’impunité de l’extrême gauche,” Le Figaro, March 18, 2023.

[4] Etienne Ouvrier, “Un député MoDem appelle à la démission du gouvernement,” L’Est républicain, March 18, 2023.

[5] Damien Dole, “A l’incinérateur d’Issy, ‘je ne sais pas quand je partirai à la retraite mais je sais que je partirai cassé,” Libération, March 18, 2023.

Reflections on Macron’s use of 49-3

Reflections on Macron’s use of 49-3

By the time the National Assembly was called to order on March 16, 2023, the deputies knew that the government was going to use Article 49-3 to declare that the government would assume the responsibility for passing the retirement bill–meaning that they would declare it