France torn apart by pension reform?

The French government has pushed through its controversial pension reform by decree, bypassing a parliamentary vote. It narrowly survived two no-confidence motions on Monday, but strikes and mass protests against the reform continue. Europe’s press observes the rifts in French society with concern.

Népszava (HU) /

The great reformer squandering his popularity

Népszava comments:

“President Macron was brave enough to carry out this reform in his second term. Several of his predecessors had tried, but in the end none of them dared to make such extensive changes. Although Macron wants to go down in history as a great reformer, he could end up as one of the most unpopular presidents in history by cutting the pension years that are ‘sacred’ to the French.”

Tamás Rónay
Evrensel (TR) /

Police causing a storm which could turn into a hurricane

The rift between the people and those in power in France has grown too large, Evrensel argues:

“The authoritarian tendencies show a government that in its arrogance has distanced itself from the people, disregards their opinions and has forgotten that it is the representative of the voters. The violence used by the police undoubtedly reinforces this appearance. The police are sowing not wind but a storm, and they may reap a hurricane in return. Whether arrogance, repression and violence on the one side or the determination of the demonstrators on the other will prevail remains to be seen. ... In the meantime, it is not unlikely that Macron will sacrifice Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to save himself.”

Ayşen Uysal
Politiken (DK) /

Deaf ears and widespread anger

For Politiken, everything points to a confrontation:

“Macron was elected in 2017 on the promise of uniting the French people. Instead, under his presidency the French nation is more divided than it has been in decades — and the protests rolling through France these days are largely driven by anger over not being heard. France deserved better, but for now the way forward is hard to see. ‘How can you govern a country that has 262 types of cheese?’ a frustrated Charles de Gaulle asked many years ago. Emmanuel Macron’s brutal methods in recent days have only made this more difficult.”

Marcus Rubin
The Economist (GB) /

A bitter triumph

Now is not the time for Macron to celebrate:

“The outcome, however, is likely to feel like an empty victory for Mr Macron. It is unfortunate, to say the least, that the reform was not approved through normal parliamentary procedure. The episode will exacerbate his reputation for having an imperious governing style. As it is, his popularity rating has fallen to just 28% from a high of 41% after his re-election, according to Ifop, a pollster. This is its lowest point since early 2019, during the gilets jaunes (yellow jackets) rebellion. A comparable popular rebellion, on top of ongoing political disorder, cannot be ruled out.”

Libération (FR) /

Disastrous bungling

Macron and Prime Minister Borne have made a real mess of this, Libération criticises:

“They’ve been proving their amateurish bungling for two months by poorly defending a botched project. They’ve weakened parliament in an almost unprecedented manner. ... Its image needed to be restored, but they have done the opposite. The president and his prime minister have also contributed significantly to widening the gap between the people and politics. And along the way they have paved the way for the [radical right-wing] Rassemblement National and the far-right conspiracy movement that rejoices in every political crisis.”

Paul Quinio
Diário de Notícias (PT) /

Reform makes sense, revolt doesn’t

Diário de Notícias can’t understand the fierce protests against the pension reform:

“Raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 should be a matter of common sense, given the longer life expectancy of all of us. But it doesn’t pass muster socially. The French go into revolt over everything. Even if the social obligation to ensure that the young of today can still enjoy social benefits in old age suffers as a result. ... Not least because the governments’ response to appease society is always based on the same unsustainable solution: more public debt in an ageing, ever less competitive Europe that is in danger of breaking up.”

Daniel Deusdado
L’Opinion (FR) /

New type of cohabitation needed

The conservative Les Républicains need to change their strategy, L’Opinion concludes:

“France is right-wing, it votes right-wing and is sliding further and further to the right. Education, health, the green transformation, immigration, security, combating debt: on all these issues Emmanuel Macron takes a right-wing position with every word he speaks. ... The situation of the conservatives has now changed: deeply fractured, they are no longer united and their future is in jeopardy. They must now save themselves. But they still have one chance to make an impact: negotiate a government programme. A new kind of cohabitation, based more on co-construction than on confrontation.”

Nicolas Beytout
Magyar Hang (HU) /

Paris is not Budapest

Contrary to what the pro-government Hungarian press claims, France is still far more democratic than Hungary, stresses journalist Szabolcs Szerető in Magyar Hang:

“Macron’s bypassing of the legislature is reminiscent of Orbán’s illiberal exercise of power. But while Macron’s move is undoubtedly anti-democratic, it does not abolish the French tradition of public law. Moreover, pension reform was a central theme in Macron’s election manifesto. I don’t know whether the president or the protesting masses will emerge victorious from this conflict, but what is certain is that French society is in a position to articulate its interests to those in power.”

Szabolcs Szerető
The Times (GB) /

The only right path

The Times praises Macron’s resolve:

“It is a nettle that must be grasped. France can no longer afford its luxurious retirement arrangements. If nothing is done the state pension system could be £790 billion [roughly 900 billion euros] in deficit by 2050. Longer lives mean a liberal regime that has endured since the days of François Mitterrand is unsustainable. ... Mr Macron is justified in seeing the reform as essential, and not only to save the pension system. Like Britain, France needs its older workforce to keep contributing. Just 56 per cent of those aged 55 to 64 are in a job, while the figure in Germany is 72 per cent.”

Libération (FR) /

Macron is destabilising France

The president’s actions are damaging the country, criticises Libération’s editor-in-chief Dov Alfon:

“Emmanuel Macron has broken all the eggs he had in his basket, but he has not managed to make an omelette. The list is dizzying: the brazen lies from the moment the reform was presented, the secret negotiations to get it passed through parliament, the hundreds of amendments that were rejected arbitrarily, the arrogant refusal to meet with the unions, the contempt for one of the biggest protest movements in the history of the Fifth Republic. ... What now lies ahead: intensification of the protests, rejection of the institutions of the republic and the opening of a populist breach through which the far right could rush in.”

Dov Alfon
Der Tagesspiegel (DE) /

Good news for Le Pen

Der Tagesspiegel says Macron’s approach is a political disaster:

“The reform is rejected by the bulk of the population as anti-social and there have been mass demonstrations and strikes for weeks. The trade unions are showing a rare degree of unity. And now this controversial and hated law is to be passed without being presented to parliament because there is no secure majority there? This can only massively shake the confidence of the French in democracy and the institutions. The only ones who will be happy about this are Marine le Pen and her far-right party.”

Andrea Nüsse
La Stampa (IT) /

A big gamble

Macron’s course of action is risky for several reasons, La Stampa warns:

“Firstly, it’s clear that France is not going through a financial crisis comparable to the one that hit Italy in 2011 when the Monti government passed the pension reform by decree. ... Invoking a financial crisis when you’re not really living through one will hardly make an unpopular measure acceptable. Secondly, Macron is seriously jeopardising his own credibility, because the use of special powers requires the political strength and consistency not to back down afterwards.”

Pietro Garibaldi
Le Figaro (FR) /

Doomed to stand still

France’s fierce opposition to reform gives Le Figaro pause for thought:

“Can it still be reformed? Is it doomed to stand still in a world that is constantly on the move? This pension reform, which has become essential because of demographic trends, is not asking the impossible! Compared to those implemented by our neighbours it is actually very moderate. And yet it is turning society upside down, spurred on by trade unionists, some of whom dream of ‘bringing the economy to its knees’. On Thursday, the government resorted to the hard way to pass its reform. Yet it still smacks of failure.”

Yves Thréard