Pressure mounts on French President Macron after violent protests

President Macron

24th March 2023 – (Paris) French President Emmanuel Macron is facing mounting pressure after violent demonstrations that resulted in over 400 security forces being injured and major cities shrouded in tear gas and smoke. More than 450 people were arrested during the most violent day of protests against Macron’s bid to raise the retirement age to 64. The protest movement has been reinvigorated by Macron’s tactics and statements over the last week, resulting in over a million people marching nationwide on Thursday.

The French presidency announced on Friday that King Charles III’s visit next week had been postponed after unions declared another day of strikes and protests on Tuesday, during what would have been the British monarch’s trip. The decision was made “in order to be able to welcome His Majesty King III in conditions which reflect our friendly relations”.

Interior Minister Darmanin told the CNews channel that there were a lot of demonstrations, and some turned violent, notably in Paris. More than 900 fires were lit around the capital, with radical anarchist groups blamed for setting uncollected rubbish ablaze and smashing shop windows, leading to frequent clashes with riot police. In Bordeaux, protesters set fire to the entrance of the city hall, raising fears for the whole building until firefighters arrived to extinguish it.

Uproar over legislation to change the retirement age, which Macron pushed through parliament without a vote last week, has created another huge domestic crisis for the president just 10 months into his second term in office. Commentators are questioning how the crisis will end, just four years after the “Yellow Vest” anti-government demonstrations rocked the country. Political scientist Bastien Francois from the Sorbonne University in Paris told AFP, “No one knows where the way out lies. There’s not an easy one. Everything depends on one man who is a prisoner of the political situation.”

The leader of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, has suggested a pause on implementing the pensions law for six months. “It’s the moment to say ‘listen, let’s put things on pause, let’s wait six months’,” Berger told RTL radio. “It would calm things down.” However, Interior Minister Darmanin, a hardliner in Macron’s centrist government, dismissed calls from political opponents and protesters to withdraw the pensions reform. “I don’t think we should withdraw this law because of violence,” he said. “If so, that means there’s no state. We should accept a democratic, social debate, but not a violent debate.”

Rubbish is still gathering in the streets of Paris due to a rolling strike by garbage collectors, while blockades of oil refineries by striking workers are beginning to create fuel shortages around the country. Turnout in Paris and other cities on Thursday were higher than last week when momentum appeared to be waning. Macron’s decision to force the legislation through parliament and his refusal to back down in a television interview on Wednesday appeared to have energised many opponents.

“I think that is more of a source of anger now than the substance,” said 21-year-old student Judicael Juge during the protests. The crisis has once again put the spotlight on Macron’s leadership and his ability to manage the country’s political and social challenges.