Anger Simmers in France as Opposition Rushes to File No-Confidence Motions
Protesters in France blocked roads on Friday and labor unions vowed more strikes after President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to push a widely unpopular pension bill through Parliament without a vote, sending opposition parties rushing to file no-confidence motions against his cabinet.
Mr. Macron’s decision, announced by his prime minister on Thursday during a raucous session in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of Parliament, infuriated opponents of the bill, which would push back the legal age of retirement to 64, from 62. Overnight, violent demonstrations broke out in several French cities.
Under the rules of the French Constitution, the pension bill will become law unless a no-confidence motion against the government succeeds in the National Assembly. Opposition lawmakers there say that they are going to file one or several of those motions by Friday afternoon, with a vote expected in the coming days, most likely on Monday.
Only a single no-confidence motion has succeeded in France since 1958, when the current Constitution was adopted. The motions that political groups said they would file on Friday were not seen as particularly likely to succeed.
But the decision to ram a highly contentious bill through Parliament has reinvigorated the monthslong protest movement against the retirement overhaul, which also increases the number of years workers have to pay into the system to get a full pension.
In Paris on Friday, a crowd of protesters from the C.G.T., or General Confederation of Labor, France’s second-largest labor union, briefly blocked access to the périphérique, the highway that circles the French capital, where many streets are still marred by heaps of trash because of an ongoing garbage collectors’ strike.
“The fight continues,” the C.G.T. said in a statement announcing the blockage.
The C.G.T. also announced that strikers would shut down an oil refinery in Normandy over the weekend, potentially disrupting fuel deliveries to gas stations, and teachers’ unions said that they would strike next week during an exam period — fueling concerns of longer, more disruptive walkouts.
France’s main labor unions, who have kept an unusually united front in the showdown with the government, said that they were more determined then ever, and announced that they would organize a ninth day of nationwide protests and strikes next week, on March 23.
Catherine Perret, a top C.G.T. official who read from a joint statement on Thursday evening, accused the government of a “real denial of democracy” and said that the unions would continue “calm and determined actions” against the pension changes.
Opposition lawmakers have until Friday afternoon to file their no-confidence motions. The far-right National Rally party has already announced that it would file one, although it has also said that its lawmakers could also vote on a motion filed by others.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, co-founder of the far-left France Unbowed, told France Inter radio on Friday that the party would support a no-confidence motion filed by a group of independent lawmakers — one more likely to be supported by a broad group of opponents — instead of putting forward their own.
“This bill has no parliamentary legitimacy,” said Mr. Mélenchon, who is no longer a France Unbowed lawmaker or the official party leader but is still very influential in the party.
But Mr. Macron’s fragmented opposition is unlikely to topple his cabinet, as the mainstream conservative Republican party, while divided over support for the pension bill, is very reluctant to do so.
Mr. Macron’s government, which had insisted up until the very last minute that it wanted to go ahead with a vote on Thursday, is now scrambling to quell the anger and insisting it had no choice but to force through a bill that Mr. Macron sees as pivotal for France’s future.
Olivier Dussopt, the labor minister, told the BFMTV news channel on Friday that tallies before Thursday’s session suggested three to four votes were missing because some conservative mainstream lawmakers — whose support Mr. Macron needed — were missing from the count.
“But it is not a failure,” Mr. Dussopt said. “Because there is a bill, and this bill will be implemented if the no-confidence motion is rejected.”
Commentators were not as optimistic. The front page of Le Figaro, a conservative newspaper, said Mr. Macron was “weakened and isolated,” while Libération, a left-leaning daily, ran a close-up picture of Mr. Macron with the headline “His Fault.”
“The lesson for the government and for Emmanuel Macron is stark,” Le Monde, one of France’s leading newspapers, wrote in its editorial on Friday, adding there were “no reliable allies” for him in a National Assembly “dominated by the extremes,” making the situation “volatile, inflammable and dangerous.”
But by forcing the bill through, Mr. Macron runs the risk of “fostering a persistent bitterness, or even igniting sparks of violence,” the newspaper added.
The violent overnight protests around the country raised worries that opponents to the pension changes might turn to more radical tactics.
In Paris on Thursday, about 10,000 protesters had spontaneously gathered at the Place de la Concorde, across from the National Assembly, in a demonstration that was mostly peaceful.
But it took a far more violent turn when night fell and riot police cleared out the square, firing water cannons and tear gas at protesters who threw cobblestones and scattered into surrounding neighborhoods, lighting trash fires as they went. Other cities around France were also rocked by violent demonstrations overnight, including Rennes, Nantes, Lyon and Marseille.
Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, told RTL radio on Friday that over 300 people had been arrested around the country, most of them in Paris. He also said that he had asked the Paris police authorities to requisition garbage collectors to clear out mounds of trash that have been piling up in the French capital.
“Opposition is legitimate, demonstrations are legitimate,” Mr. Darmanin said. “But not chaos.”