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 the strike.  Gérald Darmanin, the Minister of the Interior, ordered the Prefect of Police of Paris, Laurent Nunez, to ask the mayor to “requisition” other workers to clean up the city, and has threatened, if she does not act, that “the State will substitute [for the government of Paris].”  Hidalgo’s response was that she did not have the power to requisition workers, and advised the Interior Minister to “privilege dialogue rather than go to [a method of] force.”  (It is likely, by the way, that she does have the power.)  The garbage collectors have stated that they will continue the strike “at least until March 20.”  And why not?  The workers at the incinerators surrounding Paris, including Europe’s largest at Ivry, have been on strike since March 6.[1]

Both Chambers have worked through the retirement bill (in strikingly different fashion) and it has now been passed by the Senate, including article 7, which raises the retirement age to 64.  The National Assembly, in a tumultuous series of discussions, did not arrive at a final vote before they ran out of time in this truncated process (art. 47-1).  The bill then went to a “mixed commission” on Wednesday, March 15–today, as this is posted, in other words–which came up with a compromise bill that will have to be passed by both chambers. Tomorrow. The mixed commission, authorized by article 45 of the constitution of the 5th Republic, is put together by the nominations of the political caucuses to the presidents of each body, reflecting the composition of the assembly.[2]

The Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and the cabinet’s spokesman to the Parliament, Olivier Véran, have both firmly denied that the government will resort to passing the bill by art. 49-3 (essentially a vote that either passes into law by declaration or, if successfully challenged, forces the government to fall).  But many believe that they might resort to forced passage anyway, with Bruno Retailleau, (Les Républicains, LR), stating that “The government must do everything it can not to use [49.3], but if at the end of the day there is a problem, it will have to use it.”  It all rests on Les Républicains, the only ones with whom Borne negotiated at the beginning of the process. On March 12,  L’Obs counted between 30-35 LRs (out of 61, with 2 others affiliated) in the Assembly who will vote for the bill, about 15 who will vote no, and about a dozen who will abstain, this coming from an “internal source”; and the AFP, looking at Macron’s Ensemble majority (Renaissance, MoDem and Horizons), suggested that as many as a dozen might abstain.[3]. These figures, particularly the last one, may have changed in the last few days.

The bill that the mixed commission has now created, as of early in the evening in Paris, March 15, includes the key article 7, which pushes the retirement age to 64. That was inevitable: the commission, consisting of seven senators and seven deputies, was split 10/4 in favor. In the Senate, three LRs, a centrist, and a macroniste were all in favor, with two Socialists, Monique Lubin and Corinne Féret, against. In the Assembly delegation, there were three members of Renaissance (Macron’s party), 1 Modem (ally), and 1 LR, all in favor; and only Mathilde Panot, the caucus leader of La France Insoumise, and Thomas Ménagé, of the Rassemblement national, against.[4] Mathilde Panot tweeted an LR press release which claimed victory and credit, sent even before the commission meeting was over:

Panot, in fact, live-tweeted throughout the meeting, noting the moment when a Senate amendment adding “exposure to dangerous chemicals” as a work hazard taken into account in the pension, was “scrubbed” from the legislation.[5]. She noted that there was a “total scam” in regard to long careers, starting at 20 or 21, since some would work 43, others 44, years; the LR reporter of the bill, when asked if they would have to pay withholding taxes as they went beyond 43 years, had said, “I don’t know.”[6]

Thomas Ménagé of the RN sent out a communiqué to the press asserting that the RN would not vote for the law and would use all constitutional means to try to block it; the government, he added, “refuses to hear the contestation and the large popular rejection of an unjust and useless law.”[7]

The “compromise” bill will go to each house tomorrow. According to the constitution, there can be no further amendments unless the executive agrees.


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[1] “Grève des éboueurs à Paris: Darmanin demande à Hidalgo de ‘réquisitionner’ du personnel,” Le Huffpost, March 15, 2023.


[3] L’Obs with AFP, “Borne part à a chasse aux voix des députés pour éviter un 49-3 sur les retraites,” L’Obs, March 12, 2023.

[4] “Tout Comprendre: Qu’est-ce que la Commission mixte paritaire, qui décide de la suite de la réforme des retraites?”, BFMTV, March 15, 2023.




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