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 chance to “vote” on the bill: those who would vote against the retirement bill would not necessarily vote in favor of overturning the government.  It’s not the same thing, and the fact remains that a fundamental change in French life and finances was pushed through by the government because they feared that there were not enough votes.  The episode has thrown France into a  constitutional turmoil, just as serious in the long run as the demonstrations in the street.  The confrontations between police and protesters are already reminiscent of the worst days of the Gilets Jaunes; the work stoppages and slow-downs are damaging the economy.

On Tuesday, March 21, President Emmanuel Macron spoke to the members of his coalition, stating that “the crowds have no legitimacy in the face of the people who express themselves through their elected representatives”–one of those malapropisms that he is known for, and that stirred considerable outrage.  (Particularly since his government had not allowed the elected officials in the National Assembly to speak.) In his interview on the following day at 1 pm, on March 22 (TF1 and France 2) he tried to clean up that remark, stressing his support for peaceful protest, for the protest actions by the unions; but as he talked, he wound up apparently comparing the protestors in French streets to those who invaded the U. S. Capital on January 6.  

The interview, just over 35 minutes long, was a monologue and a filibuster, as one could judge from the sign language interpreters: one, for the two reporters, stood with arms folded and hands clasped, barely moving; Macron’s interpreters, on the other hand, had to relieve each other through the course of the discussion.  One could also see the frustration on the faces of the two journalists, as he overrode their questions and talked about what he wanted to talk about.

The salient parts came at the beginning.

Asked if the retirement bill would proceed, he stated that it would continue to follow the “democratic process.”  It had been the product of several months of consultation.  (With whom? All of the contesting parties and unions denied that he had talked to them; Elisabeth Borne had talked to Éric Ciotti, head of Les Républicains, who in the end was unable to keep his party together.  Moreover, in apparent contradiction, Macron said later that those in government had “held out their hand” to discuss compromises, but no one had taken it.)   

But to resume Macron’s statement: the bill was drawn up, debated in the Parlement for 175 hours, was improved by the Parliament, was put in final form by a mixed commission of the two houses, voted by the Senate, passed by Article 49.3 in the Assembly, and then confirmed by the failure of the censure votes.  Now they were awaiting the final approval of the Constitutional Council.

All very normal.

Asked if he had confidence in Elisabeth Borne, Macron said yes, but without much enthusiasm, noting that he had supported her decision to use 49.3.

Macron stated that his only regret was that he had failed to explain “the necessity of this reform.”  It was all about demography.  It was all about the fact that it would only get worse if they waited.  Any other solution was impossible. He had transformed Margaret Thatcher’s “There is no alternative” to “There are not 36 solutions,” an expression he had used before, in response to other possible ideas.  To the question of whether businesses could pay more into the fund (their various withholding payments had been repeatedly “softened” over the past twenty years) the answer was no, because France has a system, to which the country is very attached, where workers pay in; nor would he raise taxes to finance retirement–besides, he wanted to invest in schools and hospitals.  Going into deficit spending would mean passing the burden to the next generation.  This was a situation that called for “realism.”

Macron showed an extraordinarily misleading chart that showed the US retirement age at 62.  And, while one can indeed retire in the US at the age of 62, doing so is at the permanent cost of less-than-full benefits; for those born in 1960 or later, the full retirement benefits become available only at the age of 67.  Not only was the chart wrong, but it was not clear why he thought it would help his case.

And those were the last comments on the subject of the retirement reform and the situation in the streets, despite the efforts of the journalists to get back to the topic.

What followed instead was a flood of words, ranging from electric battery production to water supply.

It was an unusually tone deaf performance.

And then there was the disappearing watch, as tweeted by Clémence Guetté, LFI deputy.   Macron removed it during the interview, in a maneuver worthy of Michael Scott:

The story grew, became a meme; it was said that the “luxury” watch cost 80,000 euros; that it must suddenly have occurred to him that it was inappropriate to wear, as he was increasing the length of working lives of people and talking about people on minimum wage.  Midi libre reported the real story. In gesturing, he had accidentally banged the watch on the table, making an audible sound; thus he took it off.  

And the watch cost 2,000 euros. 


Header Image: Photo 89534885 / Word Cloud © Marek Uliasz |

Interview with the President.

Claire Gatinois and Matthieu Goar, “Pension reform: Macron digs his heels in, impervious to backlash,” Le Monde, March 23, 2023. (In English).

“Macron portrait une montre de luxe pour parler aux ‘smicards”: comment cette fake news est née après son interview,” Midi Libre, March 23, 2023.

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