Month: March 2023

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 

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 “passed” without debate or vote, and that a vote of censure would be their only means of expressing themselves; the deputies are working on that measure now.  The moment P.M. Elisabeth Borne was called to the podium, La France Insoumise and other members began singing La Marseillaise

Re-elected less than a year ago, Macron has, one hopes only for the moment, sabotaged his own second and final term.  In the tense Élysée conference on March 15, at 9:57 p.m. (the precise time suggests the news came from someone within the meeting), he raised the idea of going to a vote, then dissolving the National Assembly immediately if it failed, and calling for new elections, which constitutionally he can do.[1] It would likely be a mistake; Conservative Jacques Chirac’s decision to do so in 1997 saddled him with a new Socialist Party majority and the Socialist leader Lionel Jospin as prime minister for the next five years.  If indeed it is Macron’s intention to call for new elections to the National Assembly, then the use of 49-3 has pre-empted an on-the-record vote of this issue–a boon for candidates of his own party, but probably not much of one.  What platform do his candidates run on?

And what does yesterday’s session do to Macron’s cabinet, and particularly to Elisabeth Borne?  It is hard to see how she and many in her cabinet can survive.  According to Le Figaro and another talkative insider (or perhaps the same one), Macron, at 2:10 p.m. on the 16th of March (and after the Senate had passed the bill) stated to his cabinet of Ministers: “[It would be to] my benefit and [according to] my political will to go to the vote.  Among all of you, I am not the one who is risking his place and his seat.  But I consider that the financial and economic risks are too great for the state.  That is the reason why I am accepting your request to engage your own responsibility on this text” (that is, 49.3).[2]  That sounds a little monarchical; and he was perhaps underestimating his own vulnerability, particularly In terms of whether he could continue to be an effective leader.   And what of the vulnerability of his party?  Has it lost its raison d’être?  Where is the “Left” in Macron’s “Both Left and Right?”  

The next test of Macron’s party, Renaissance, may come during the 2024 European elections.  Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (RN) got the highest percentage of the vote in the 2019 elections, with Macron’s party coming in second, just under a percentage point behind. The RN deputies have not been hurt by this pension fight, in which they were staunchly opposed, but less vocal and chaotic than La France Insoumise.  A French EU delegation dominated by a pro-Putin/pro-Russia/anti-NATO RN would be damaging to the unity of the European Union.

So are there any procedural steps that can be taken?

The Conseil Constitutionnel will probably be asked to take up the issue.  They would not judge the 49-3 procedure–which is in the constitution–but they might determine whether the use of this procedure, or of Article 47-1 (which truncated the debate) was a justified use, given the subject matter; and they would be able to look at each separate article of the law, to determine whether any violate existing law, and to nullify not the law but a particular article.  Headed currently by Laurent Fabius, a leading Socialist Party member for decades, the Council’s purpose is to examine the constitutionality of laws and certain regulations. 

They also supervise the handling of referendums, according to the RIP process.

The RIP, or Referendum d’initiative partagée, is article 11 of the constitution.[3]. It began as an initiative of the President (only) to call for a vote of the public on a particular issue in defined categories; the clause that includes “the economic, social, or environmental policy of the nation” would likely cover the issues relating to pensions.  This article was redefined by Sarkozy in 2008 to make it more “popular,” by including the voices of citizens–but also to make it so complicated that it would be unlikely ever to be used.[4]  A further complication is that an RIP cannot be directed against a law that has been in force for less than a year.

Macron and Borne made a number of missteps along the way, beginning with their failure to make the case for the necessity of the reform.  The reasons put forward had largely to do with the coming bankruptcy of pension funds, because of the demographic shifts–the mass retirement of baby boomers, coupled with a smaller number of people in active employment.  Added to that was the European Union restraint that prevents member state debt from amounting to more than 3% of the GDP (in France, the PIB).  If the state bailed out the pension funds, it would be costly and would boost the total debt beyond acceptable levels.  

If the French spoke English, the argument would go a little something like this:

But this argument has become a little threadbare with overuse.  And in France, in the face of bailouts or tax credits or outright gifts to corporations, in the face of gross and growing disparities in income, leisure, and wealth, there are those who wonder why it has to be the very neediest who pay.


Header image from Shutterstock.

[1] Claire Gatinois and Ivanne Trippenbach, “Retraites Emmanuel Macron fait pression pour trouver une majorité après un conclave à l’Élysée,” Le Monde, March 16, 2023.

[2] François-Xavier Bourmaud and Wally Bordas, “Tension à l’Élysée, coups d’éclat et 49.3 à l’Assemblée . . . (sic) Les coulisses d’une folle journée politique,” Le Figaro, March 17, 2023.

[3], The Constitution of the Fifth Republic in English; see article 11.

[4] Ronan Planchon, “‘Le référendum d’initiative partagée est conçu pour ne jamais être utilisé,’” Le Figaro, March 17, 2023.

Updated: Retirement Reform and 49-3

Updated: Retirement Reform and 49-3

The woman in the red scarf is Mathilde Panot, head of the France Insoumise caucus in the National Assembly: The young man in a tricolor sash is Louis Boyard of LFI, at the age of 21 the youngest member of the National Assembly: The orange 

Retirement Reform: a Pyrrhic victory for Macron?

Retirement Reform: a Pyrrhic victory for Macron?

Paris is filling up with trash because the garbage workers are on strike; the media is featuring photos of epic piles, some garnished with rats. Mayor Anne Hidalgo has not intervened because she opposes the retirement bill before the Parliament, which is the cause of 

Turmoil within EELV

Turmoil within EELV

In November, 2021, Julien Bayou, the national secretary of EELV (Europe-Écologie-Les Verts) and eventually the co-chair of his caucus in the National Assembly, ended his relationship with his companion of several years.[1] According to Le Monde, rumors of “violence” circulated within the party. The first public hint was made on an instagram account, balancetonelu (Call out your elected official) on June 19, the day of the second round elections for the National Assembly. The photo showed a Julien Bayou ballot with the word “prédateur” written on it.[2] The commentary on the photo identified the posters as “ecofeminist activists” who stated that they would not vote for the Ensemble (Macronist) candidate, and could not vote for Bayou “because of the traumatic memory (sic) that he had left.”

The next public mention was in an article in Le Figaro on July 7, focused on “parties of the Left” that were dealing with matters of sexual violence within their ranks. (The reference was to the recent conviction of Adrien Quatennens of La France Insoumise, given a four month suspended sentence for spousal abuse.)[3] Bayou commented in this article on his own situation, noting that his ex-companion had brought her case against him to the internal EELV commission, “following a painful and difficult break-up.”  He continued, noting that she had sent him a message (apparently by email, since he had it as proof) three days after reporting to the internal commission: “Be worried.  I’m going to return in strength . . . The [your?] fall is going to be painful.”  He hoped the commission would act quickly; he was guilty neither of “sexist nor sexual violence, nor of inappropriate behavior towards anyone.” [4] Le Monde noted that his comments had received little attention, because they came at the very end of the piece, nor was he mentioned in the title.

The issue exploded with the appearance of Sandrine Rousseau–a member of EELV and an écofeministe– on C à vous (France 5) on September 19. She responded to a twitter question from #noustoutes (All of Us) which made reference to the allegations and asked what had happened to the investigation of his conduct.

(“Bonjour, EELV, the CVSS [an internal investigation unit within the party focused on sexual violence] took up in July the accusations of violence committed by Julien Bayou against his ex-companion. How to ensure that the women activists are safe? No measure seems to have been taken, why?”) Rousseau responded that there had been no actual physical violence that could be taken to court, but rather it had been a kind of “moral” violence, what came to be called “psychological violence.” Rousseau further stated that she had been in contact with the woman, who was deeply depressed and had made an attempt at suicide.[5] The hosts, perhaps expecting a kind of routine “wait for the investigation” sort of response, were visibly surprised that she went into such detail.

Rousseau, however, ventured onto this terrain quite deliberately. She knew she would be asked the question, and she had contacted the complainant beforehand, asking if she could reveal her story. The woman (with the pseudonym Aline in Libération, and Agathe in Reporterre) gave her permission, saying she wanted to “mediatize” her version of events, since Bayou had begun to speak of it, telling his side.[6]

This interview did get attention. Bayou resigned the following day, on September 20, as co-president of his caucus in the National Assembly (though not from the Assembly itself), and on September 26 he resigned as national secretary of EELV. One of his reasons for resigning his offices, Bayou said, was so that he could be free to defend himself.  He left the actual telling of his story to Marie Dosé, his attorney.  She stated that the alleged victim had sent an email on June 30, 2022, to Julien Bayou, Sandrine Rousseau, and the party committee in charge of investigation.  In it she had described Bayou as a manipulateur and said she was going to die, by overdosing on medication.  She then sent an email apparently to the same group–but certainly to Bayou, since his lawyer referenced it–making the threat that he had quoted in Le Figaro.  

Dosé had turned then to Rousseau who, she said, had weaponized the genuine issue of violence against women for political ends.  And the members of EELV, many of them close to Bayou, did not wish to speak about Rousseau, with Hélène Hardy of the executive bureau of the party, one of those who eventually ran to replace Bayou as general secretary, noting that it was “interesting” that Rousseau had made herself the spokesperson on a number of issues, so that the press had gotten into the habit of running to her “pour faire le buzz,” but that this sort of thing did not help in bringing the party together.  Hardy also supported Bayou in his complaints about the slowness of the internal committee, suggesting that it would, in fact, have been better to have outsourced the investigation to impartial experts in the field.[7]

On September 30, Libération reported that an informal group (not the formally constituted investigatory cell) had been “surveilling” Bayou’s behavior for several years. They had a WhatsApp group. They approached women they knew to have been close to Bayou, and asked them to speak of their experiences with him. One ex, who had had a bad break-up with him, had dissed him severely, then thought better of it and actually warned Bayou that people were asking about him. Aline/Agathe was informed that this surveillance was being carried out in the interest of protecting her, a comment that seems to have unnerved her instead.[8]

The article published by Reporterre, an online ecology journal, on October 25, 2022, focused on the women, especially Aline/Agathe, but including others who had made allegations against Bayou. “It’s never easy to speak for a woman who believes herself to be the victim of psychological violence,” noted the reporter, Laury Anne Cholez; and indeed, the awful recounting included Bayou’s infidelity, a miscarriage, a forgetfulness about what mattered to her, stress during the Covid lockdown, gaslighting. Jeanne, another lover disturbed by his infidelity, was told that “I was crazy, excessive, and paranoid.” And another, Julie, stated that during their relationship “I got insecure, because he was always in the process of flirting with anyone around.” The author found three former partners who had left the relationship without being scarred by it, even as they criticized his behavior. A fourth, Elen Debost, an ecofeminist and member of the departmental council of Sarthe, made the following observation: “He goes out with women who resemble each other. Often younger than he, very intelligent, stable, rather discreet. . . . He does not know how to be in an exclusive relationship, but he doesn’t warn his companions, nor his occasional mistresses. Certainly, it’s not criminally reprehensible. But his status as a political man [whose stature is] rising, gives him an ever greater aura and facilitates his access to short adventures with young female activists in the same time that he has longer relationships with younger women that he permanently damages.”[9]

Bayou had declined to speak with Reporterre.

So there is where it ended. The EELV elected a new national secretary. Bayou has been quiet, though he was photographed in the protests against retirement reform. The internal investigation cell did nothing in the end, unable to schedule a meeting with Aline/Agathe and unwilling to call Bayou to testify until they had done so. There is no ongoing legal process, because there is nothing that amounts to a prosecutable crime.

The Minister of Justice, Éric Dupond-Moretti, criticized the “private” justice of the EELV, accountable to no one and outside the code of ethics that governed the judiciary; you can’t outsource this, he said, “to I don’t know which group, subgroup, Politburo.”  Sandrine Rousseau, on France 3, stated that the Libération article was “extremely problematic”: “women have the right to speak, and they have the right to protect themselves, and so long as the justice system won’t do that, there is nothing to be condemned in that.”[10]


Header image by, of Julien Bayou in the National Assembly.

[1] The timeline is entirely from this source: Julien Lemaignen, “Julien Bayou accusé de violences psychologiques par son ex-compagne: comprendre quatre mois de crise à EELV,” Le Monde, October 4, 2022.

[2]Cited in Julien Lemaignen, “Julien Bayou accusé,” (comments). Accessed March 11, 2023.

[3] See earlier blog post on Quatennens:

[4] Sophie de Ravinel, “Les partis de gauche face au spectre des violences sexuelles,” Le Figaro, July 7, 2022. Significantly, however, Aline/Agathe provided another, less truncated version of this email to Reporterre: “I’m going to arrange things so that you can’t hurt me any more. You have forgotten who I was but since I’m not dead don’t worry, or rather worry. I’m going to return in strength . . . The fall [what or whose fall?] is going to be painful.” Laury-Anne Cholez, “Affaire Julien Bayou: les femmes parlent,” Reporterre, October 25, 2022.

[5] Sandrine Rousseau on C à vous, September 19, 2023.

[6] Charlotte Belaïch and Willy Le Devin,  “Affaire Bayou: comment des militantes et des ex ont mis le chef d’EE-LV sous surveillance,” Libération, September 30, 3033. Cited in Julien Lemaignen, “Julien Bayou accusé.”

[7] Sandrine Casssini and Julie Carriat, “Après sa démission, Julien Bayou donne sa version des faits et s’en prend à Sandrine Rousseau,” Le Monde, September 27, 2022.

[8] Belaïch and Le Devin, “Affaire Bayou.”

[9] Laury-Anne Cholez, “Affaire Julien Bayou: les femmes parlent,” Reporterre, October 25, 2022.

[10] Julien Lemaignen, “Julien Bayou accusé de violences psychologiques par son ex-compagne: comprendre quatre mois de crise à EELV,” Le Monde, October 4, 2022.

Pierre Bérégovoy, 1925-1993

Pierre Bérégovoy, 1925-1993

Pierre Bérégovoy was President François Mitterand’s Prime Minister from April 1992 to March 1993. He had been a party activist for decades, and was present at the Congrès d’Épinay in 1971, when Mitterrand brought together the different elements of the Left to found the current 

Ukraine and the Left: Olivier Besancenot

Ukraine and the Left: Olivier Besancenot

The 2002 presidential election in France saw the first appearance of Olivier Besancenot, a 27-year-old mailman and a member of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (Revolutionary Communist League), the French section of the Fourth International.  The party described itself as Trotskyist.  The LCR party meeting in 

#Stop64ans: March 7, 2023

#Stop64ans: March 7, 2023

The current pension system was changed in 2010 under President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the change was not without protests. Currently, the age of retirement with a full pension is 62 (raised from 60, the age established by the Mitterrand administration); the required number of years of work (when one is contributing to the fund) is 41, though if one is “missing” some years of contributions, one can still retire at 67, with a full pension. Pensions are calculated according to the 25 best earning years of work, a figure that inevitably includes some of the earliest, and thus least remunerative, of the years at work. Macron proposes to raise the age to 64 and the years to 43 for full pensions.

This proposal has led to a great deal of anger, and Macron, never all that popular, has seen his popularity plummet. A poll by YouGov and Le Huffpost, taken from February 27-1 March 2023, showed Macron with a favorability rating of 25%.  He has been in that range before, but in another sampling taken in February, a survey by Ipsos-Le Point showed that he had lost ground with his own people–a 9% drop for those in his own party, Renaissance, and a drop of 7 points from his Les Républicains sympathizers.  They had his overall favorability rating at 33%.[1]

French unions (syndicats) represent only about 8% of the workforce, and they are divided into numerous organizations.  And yet they are formidable protest leaders.  And they have joined together for a planned action–in truth, a General Strike–against Macron’s pension reform, to be held for 24 hours on Tuesday, March 7, 2023.

The aim is to bring the country to a complete halt, with major planned demonstrations throughout France. Their call evokes the era at the end of the nineteenth century, when workers dreamed of a General Strike, a complete work stoppage that would show the power of workers, without which society could not exist, and could lead to dramatic improvements in wages and working conditions (indeed, the Syndicalists believed the Strike might even lead to revolution.)  This time the cause is pension reform, the last major bastion of the French social model.  

There are three major issues of substance.  The first involves the decision to raise the age of retirement, a change that creates a particular hardship for those who are in physically demanding jobs (the term is pénibilité).  The second issue is the need to complete 43 years of work (of paying into the system)–a demand which especially penalizes women, who have spent years “out of work,” as we categorize it, by raising children.  The third issue, finally, is the amount of the pension.  Opponents of the plan believe that it should be at least equal to SMIC (minimum wage).  Yet it is clear, by doing the numbers, that many retirees are making, and will still be making, less than minimum wage.

Another less tangible issue is anger over the supposed need for the change.  Macron’s government has argued that the pension funds will run out if something is not done.  Yet for years–decades–French governments have been supporting corporations by excusing them from their withholding contributions for a variety of social programs (family allowances, medical, unemployment) even as they also essentially “gave” billions to businesses in return for vague promises of job creation (for example, President François Hollande’s Crédit d’impôt pour la Compétitivité et l’Emploi).  If the money could be found for that purpose, it is argued, then it can be found to tide the pension funds over when (or indeed, if) they run short.  And this anger, which also motivated the Gilets Jaunes, stems from the profound and growing chasm between rich and poor.

One of the most important of the unions and the most moderate of the majors, the Confédération française démocratique du Travail (CFDT) issued a statement by their General Secretary, Laurent Berger:

Message from Laurent Berger, head of CFDT

He states here that the people of France–those in unions, and those who are not–had joined in historic demonstrations since the beginning of the year, but the government “remains deaf” to our opposition; thus they had been forced to harden their stance. He calls upon everyone to join them, whether in one of the unions or not; and while there are demonstrations throughout the country (each of the unions put out a map with locations) those who cannot come are asked only to stop working “a few minutes or a few hours,” in a massive show of solidarity throughout the country.

demonstration with Force ouvrière vests
A demonstration of Force ouvrière workers early in 2023 against the retirement reform.

The website for Force ouvrière included an interview with the Secretary General, Frédéric Souillot.  The system of collective social protection might “from time to time” show a deficit, he suggested, but that was because the State, after giving businesses relief from paying into withholding funds, had never reimbursed the funds, nor had they demanded real and enforceable conditions for giving the money.  He argued further that decent “employment,” not retirement, should concern the State: people had to work two or three jobs at minimum wage to survive: “to be at a minimum wage all one’s life, all one’s career, without counting the hazards due to loss of employment, doesn’t permit anyone to build his life.”

Since Macron and the government had given the earlier mass mobiizations “the back of their hand,” they had had to plsn something more.  “The strike,” Souiillot said, “isn’t an end in itself.  It is the peaceful weapon that employees and workers have, to put in the place of force.  But before that, generally we negotiate, to try to advance.  So, we tried [with the earlier demonstrations], to prove to the executive that we did not want his reform, and why.  And it isn’t just the union activists who are expressing this, but citizens, all of France; the opinion polls prove it today.” Souillot noted also that March 8 is International Women’s Day; on the evening of the 7th, there would be “general assemblies of strikers, who would decide what they will do” on the following morning.[2]. He thus suggested, as Berger did not, that the strike might well continue beyond 24 hours.

Sud Rsil, from Wikidata

SUD (“Solidaires Unitaires Démocratiques) has been particularly strident in its labeling of the planned demonstration as a “class struggle,” and calling for a “renewable strike,” or a strike continuing beyond 24 hours (grève reconductible).  “[The continuing strike] alone can disorganize, exasperate, fatigue the government, make it crack. . . . Let us organize ourselves, sector by sector, to block the economy, to organize general assemblies, to put strike funds in place, allowing those who have a decisive impact to go on strike.  The essential sectors on strike will hit the patronat hard in the wallet and block the economy.”  Oh, and they refer to Macron as a “sociopath.” [3]

The Confédération générale du travail (CGT), led by Philippe Martinez, is the other major union, along with CGDT.

Man in CGT vest

The CGT, led by Philippe Martinez, in addition to calling for the strike, put out an alternative plan for retirement.  Their main demands were a return to the age of 60, for retirement at full pension; a full pension at least equal to minimum wage; an end to allowing corporations to get “exonerations” from paying their withholding taxes; equal remuneration for men and women; a serious taking into account of pénibilité; and a “just remuneration” for farmers.[4]

March 7, 2023.


Header image from

[1] Romain Herreros, “La popularité d’Emmanuel Macron toujours aussi terne–Sondage exclusif,” Huffpost, March 3, 2023.

Clément Pétreault, “Réforme des retraites: la popularité de Macron en forte baisse,” Le Point, March 1, 2023.

[2] Valérie Forgeron, “Mobilisation contre la réforme des retraites, préparation du 7 mars: interview du secrétaire général de la Confédération, Frédéric Souillot,



Woman in Politics . . . Part 2: at the Cirque d’hiver

Woman in Politics . . . Part 2: at the Cirque d’hiver

On April 3, 2022,  Anne Hidalgo held her last major campaign rally at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris. The first-round election was seven days away.   A number of Socialist Party heavyweights were present, including her campaign manager, Johanna Rolland, mayor of Nantes; David Assouline,