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.
Valeurs actuelles. Jordan 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. 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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
Header Photo 103558420 © Ifeelstock | Dreamstime.com
 Matthieu Goar, “Réforme des retraites: Emmanuel Macron face à l’avenir incertain de son quinquennat,” Le Monde, March 18, 2023. https://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2023/03/18/emmanuel-macron-face-au-vide-de-l-apres-reforme-des-retraites_6165989_823448.html *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.
 “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. https://www.valeursactuelles.com/politique/video-retraites-le-rn-ne-presentera-pas-de-candidats-face-aux-deputes-lr-ayant-vote-la-motion-de-censure-en-cas-de-dissolution
 Vincent Trémolet de Villers, “Incendies, violences . . . L’incroyable sentime d’impunité de l’extrême gauche,” Le Figaro, March 18, 2023. https://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/politique/incendies-violences-l-incroyable-sentiment-d-impunite-de-l-extreme-gauche-20230317
 Etienne Ouvrier, “Un député MoDem appelle à la démission du gouvernement,” L’Est républicain, March 18, 2023. https://c.estrepublicain.fr/social/2023/03/18/un-depute-modem-appelle-a-la-demission-du-gouvernement
 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. https://www.liberation.fr/economie/social/a-lincinerateur-dissy-je-ne-sais-pas-quand-je-partirai-a-la-retraite-mais-je-sais-que-je-partirai-casse-20230318_JTURJ2PX3BDT5ECEBGHG4LA4YE/