Flaming French Protests Over Retirement Age Are Justified


President Macron’s constitutional workaround rightly angered French citizens. (Courtesy of Twitter)

The streets of France were filled with flames following President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement to raise the national retirement age from 62 to 64. While already being a topic of contention in the country, Macron added more fuel to the fire by utilizing a constitutional workaround to enforce the decision.

By not allowing for a parliamentary vote, Macron turned a controversy into a catastrophe. While the legislature itself was enough to cause outcry, the way he went about enforcing it was shameful. 

Many French citizens feel the same — over one million protestors took their anger to the streets in the days after Macron’s decision. Although most of these protests remained peaceful, a few became violent. The Bordeaux City Hall was recently set on fire, along with thousands of cars and waste bins, and police have even used tear gas and water cannons to control the crowds.

Garbage collectors have gone on strike, leaving over 13,000 tons of trash laying on the streets. Trains, subways and airports have seen major delays as more workers joined the protests. About 20% of teachers in France went on strike, and students banded together to blockade over 400 high schools. 

One reason why the French are so furious is because Macron overrode the legislative branch with his decision. By invoking Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, Macron was able to pass the legislation without a vote from lawmakers. 

The scene in the French parliament immediately following the decision was nothing short of chaos. As the bill was passed right in front of the lawmakers, without giving them any say, a scene of fury erupted. “64 is no!” chants and boos filled the room as the French Prime Minister announced the decision.

Checks and balances exist for a reason, and President Macron’s actions have shown an overt disregard for it. He disrespected not just the rest of the government, but every single French citizen. 

Macron has cited economic growth as the primary reason for raising the retirement age. It’s a large step in his plans for reforming the pension system, and his goal with this decision is to keep its finances out of the red. 

The president is facing lots of pressure to strengthen the country’s pension system, as France both has one of the lowest retirement ages in the world and also spends more than most countries, spending almost 14% economic output on pensions. 

While reform may be necessary, it doesn’t make the use of a constitutional workaround for such controversial legislation any less frustrating. Protestors have a right to take their anger to the streets, as they are the ones who this decision impacts the most.

Macron made a bold decision — especially compared to conversations surrounding pension reform in the United States. There have been similar debates in the U.S. regarding social security reform, but lawmakers seem to tiptoe around the subject — quite the opposite of France.

Although it can be argued that it was good for Macron to at least take a definitive stance on the topic and run with it, the legitimacy of that argument fades away when considering the fact that he knew it would not go over well with much of the French population. When dealing with such a controversial subject using what essentially is a constitutional loophole is a risky and, in my opinion, shameful move. 

If Macron really wanted what was best for his country, he should have left that decision in the hands of French lawmakers by allowing for a parliamentary vote. One person making an unpopular decision that impacts the lives of millions of the people he is supposed to protect will obviously cause outrage — and justifiably so.

The French protestors have a right to feel resentful and a right to express that. It’s important to remember that the majority of these protests are peaceful, many of which are just workers going on strike. While I can’t support violent demonstrations, it must be called to attention that it represents a small minority of the protests.

Ultimately, President Macron made a conscious decision that he knew would not be well-received by most of the country. Public outcry is simply a natural consequence of such an unpopular and unprecedented course of action.

Ava Carreiro, GSB ’24, is a marketing major from New Providence, N.J.