France Paris: It’s the stuff of nightmares for those who promote the new, dynamic France: Giant mounds of stinking garbage bags overflow from bins near the Notre-Dame cathedral in the heart of Paris, violent demonstrators in Bordeaux set fire to the majestic doors of City Hall and teargas-laced battles break out in major cities between ranks of riot police and protesters who set alight whatever they can lay their hands on.
whose stubborn insistence on ramming through an increase in the retirement age reignited labor unrest, deepened fissures in parliament, nearly brought down his government and now threatens paralysis for the four remaining years he gets to stay in office.
“We are in a dead-end, with no clear way out,” said Christelle Craplet, head of BVA Opinion, a French pollster.
“This is a tense situation in which there is no majority to govern and no majority to topple the government either.”
As the opposing sides dig in, the stage is set for extended strikes in some key sectors and the specter of prolonged and violent demonstrations — even King Charles III was forced to postpone a planned visit to France. The turmoil risks making Macron a lame-duck president, forcing him to drop new business-friendly initiatives after his earlier policies helped make France Europe’s top destination for foreign investment and arguably the biggest beneficiary of Brexit, providing another base for financial institutions away from the UK’s political vicissitudes.
Macron’s effort to raise the minimum retirement age to 64 from 62 — bringing it more in line with France’s European neighbors — has touched on something deeper: the French way of life and a social model with ironclad cradle-to-grave protections. Coming on top of a war in Europe, rising food and energy prices and other economic anxieties, his determination to push ahead now has turned the reform into an existential battle coalescing all discontent.
“This is a long-term fight and I really believe that after things continue to go wrong where it hurts the government, like fuel shortages or mountains of garbage, the pension reform might be withdrawn,” said Laure Lafitte, a 27-year-old childcare worker, who demonstrated on Thursday at the Bastille square in Paris along with tens of thousands of people who blew horns, shouted anti-reform slogans and set off flares.
Their collective angst is providing fodder for the leaders of the country’s extreme parties, the far-right Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon on the left, who increasingly have their sights set on theaprès-Macron election in 2027.
This isn’t how it was supposed to be. Macron, now 45, arrived at the Élysée Palace in 2017 as its youngest-e ver French president, bringing the promise of a fresh start to government and the economy after years of entrenched divisions. A technocrat who cut his political teeth in the reformist wing of Socialist President François Hollande’s government, he also spoke the language of fiscal discipline and pro-business labor reforms. A former investment banker, he had the ear of finance and tech, and a knack for wrapping his messaging in an unwavering embrace of the European Union — unlike the fringes of both the right and the left.
His extraordinary political ascension was followed by winning a large majority in parliament that allowed him to blitz through a checklist of pro-business reforms including corporate tax cuts and a shakeup of labor laws. These reduced the financial risks for companies laying off workers and stripped down complex layers of negotiation between employees and employers.
“Despite what you see in the streets, France has become over the last decades a really, really good hub for innovation,” said Sofinnova’s Papiernik, whose firm invests in startups and early stage life science companies.
Macron’s first big warning of choppier waters ahead came in late 2018 with months of violent street protests sparked by the Yellow Vest movement, which shocked the nation and forced the president to drop plans for a fuel levy and ease the
tax burden on low earners.
The core of his agenda remained intact, and when it came to running for reelection last year, Macron could point to multiple signs of success: the lowest unemployment in more than a decade, economic output rebounding from the Covid pandemic faster than European peers and France topping rankings for luring investment after years of lagging behind the UK and Germany.