French president Emmanuel Macron addressed the nation on April 17, having passed a series of widely unpopular pension reforms that have sparked months of protest throughout France. The speech came after France’s constitutional court ruled in favor of Macron’s government last week.
In a televised speech, Macron said he “understood the anger” of the protestors but remained confident that his new law was “needed to guarantee everyone’s pension.”
The months-long political crisis has done serious damage to the president’s political reputation, with his approval rating dropping to a record low of 23% in a recent poll.
The reforms overhaul the French pension system, including raising the national retirement age from 62 to 64. Macron has said they are necessary to mitigate the effects of France’s aging population. Between 2030 and 2050, the number of French people over 85 is expected to rise by 90%.
Protestors banged pots and pans throughout Paris during the speech, looking to symbolically drown out Macron’s words. The protests have moved well beyond the retirement age, turning into a platform for broader worker grievances about wage stagnation and reduced benefits.
Macron acknowledged the challenges of low wages and high prices, saying that current economic conditions “don’t allow many French people to live well.”
Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure said Macron’s actions showed contempt for the protest movement, while labor unions and other advocacy groups vowed that protests will continue, calling for mass demonstrations on Labor Day (May 1).
Quotable: Jean-Luc Mélenchon
“Macron wanted to intimidate all of France in the middle of the night. A thief of life! An absurd display of arrogance.” —Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a political rival of Macron, tweeted after the president signed the pension reform into law
Macron celebrates a Pyrrhic victory
While Macron can now declare victory for his signature pension reforms, he may have doomed his centrist party’s ambitions for the next election, with the chaotic political scene reportedly energizing the base of the main opposition leader, Marine Le Pen.
Recent polling suggests that the far-right politician would trounce Macron in a head-to-head matchup by more than 10 percentage points, despite Macron beating Le Pen by 17 points in last year’s election.
This has led many in the French press to refer to Macron’s achievement as a Pyrrhic victory, after the Greek king who famously defeated the Romans but lost most of his army.
A timeline of the French pension crisis
January 10: The government announces it will move forward with its plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, calling it a necessary step to adequately fund the pension system.
January 31: A million protestors take to the streets to voice their opposition to the pension reforms, in a demonstration mostly organized by the country’s labor groups. It’s among the first major protests opposing the proposed bill.
February 18: The pension reforms move to the French Senate after tense debate in the lower houses of parliament.
March 16: Prime minister Élisabeth Borne announces that to prevent any chance of the legislation’s defeat, the government would trigger Article 49.3 of the constitution to force it through parliament.
March 20: Macron faces two votes of no confidence, called by both the far left and the far right, as protests and strikes rage throughout France. He narrowly survives both.
March 28: Protestors close all access to the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, with local officials deploying a record 13,000 Paris police officers to meet the largest demonstrations yet.
April 5: French union leaders meet with Borne for last-minute talks before the reforms are ratified, but negotiations quickly break down.
April 8: Macron visits China to meet with president Xi Jinping and discuss a possible peace plan for the war in Ukraine. Protestors accuse him of trying to deflect from domestic issues.
April 14: The French constitutional court rules in favor of most of the proposed reforms, clearing the way for Macron to sign them into law.
April 15: Macron signs the reforms into law.
🇨🇳 Macron visited Beijing despite protests in France that show no sign of stopping
🔥 Macron narrowly won a no-confidence vote as protestors shut down France
🇫🇷 Workers in France are organizing a new wave of strikes against the pension reform