Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in street protests and strikes throughout France, as fears of violent clashes with police escalate. Demonstrations continue over President Emmanuel Macron’s use of constitutional executive powers to force an unpopular increase in the pension age.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin stated that 13,000 police officers have been deployed, with 5,500 stationed in Paris alone. He justified the record number by citing a “major risk to public order.”
The protest movement against raising the pension age from 62 to 64 has become the most significant domestic crisis of Macron’s second term. Strikes on Tuesday impacted refineries, waste collection, rail transport, air travel, and schools. Authorities in Paris and several other cities prepared for potential confrontations between police and those involved in protests.
“The social state and the social safety net are disappearing,” said Françoise, a social worker due to retire in three months at 63, who was demonstrating in Paris.
Yves, a former teacher and factory worker who retired at 59, added, “People are demonstrating on the street because citizens aren’t being listened to. We’re afraid of being tear-gassed, but the police should be protecting us.”
Inès, a 25-year-old from Seine Saint Denis who has worked as a supermarket cashier and in fast-food chains, said, “This is about workers on the streets fighting for their rights.”
Initially starting as two months of regular, peaceful trade union-organized strike days, the movement has shifted to more spontaneous protest gatherings over the past 10 days. Numerous cities and towns have experienced pockets of unrest after dark, with fires lit on streets and property vandalized.
Attacks on politicians’ constituency offices have increased since Macron’s decision to bypass the lower house of parliament and push through the pension changes. French intelligence services prepared for Tuesday’s trade union-led strike and protest day by predicting many more young people would participate, potentially two or three times as many as during the last significant strike action on Thursday, as reported by French media.
Many young people initially “didn’t feel affected” by the pension changes but joined the movement last week, outraged by the use of executive powers in Article 49.3 of the constitution to bypass parliament after the government feared it would not secure enough votes.
Authorities anticipate clashes and violence similar to last Thursday’s coordinated strike day when bus stops, newspaper kiosks, and traffic lights were damaged in Paris, and hundreds of fires were lit on pavements amid ongoing conflicts with police.
The crisis has intensified due to controversy over policing tactics, with lawyers alleging arbitrary arrests, injuries, and heavy-handedness during crowd control.
Over 30 lawyers wrote an open letter to Le Monde on Monday, expressing their “great concern” over what they called arbitrary arrests of hundreds of people, accusing the police of using the judicial system and arrests as a tactic to deter people from joining the protests.
Macron has firmly stated that he will not back down. On March 24, he gave a highly anticipated interview to explain the situation and the way forward. He declared that he would not yield to violence and that he was now awaiting the Constitutional Council’s final decision on the reform, which is expected by the end of April. Macron also committed to collaborating with unions on implementing the pension reform.
A significant reason for Macron’s insistence on pension reform, even passing it through an unpopular presidential decree instead of parliament, is the depletion of the French pension fund. The reform cannot afford to fail.
Apart from an overextended budget, billions are being mandated from the Biden administration and the World Economic Forum to be transferred either directly to the corrupt Ukrainian government or weapon manufacturers supplying Ukraine—to kill Russians.
France is also facing munitions shortages as it continues to aid Ukraine in its war against Russia. Le Figaro newspaper reported that French armed forces are experiencing shortages of munitions amidst the country’s military aid to the Kyiv government. The report cited two French lawmakers who stated that the ground forces in France are facing shortages of 155mm munitions used in howitzers and artillery cannons. French lawmakers Julien Rancoule and Vincent Bru compiled a report about the country’s ammunition reserves, outlining the reasons for re-assessing stocks of ammunition. Kyiv’s increasing demand for arms and ammunition has depleted NATO stockpiles, forcing member countries to increase production of arms.
France’s resources have been significantly impacted by ongoing aid payments to Ukraine. Consequently, Macron is attempting to reduce government spending in other areas.
In essence, Macron is cutting assistance programs for the country’s poor and marginalized citizens rather than curbing the ongoing waste of France’s national budget on a war it has already lost in Ukraine. The impoverished people of France are bearing the burden for the billions of dollars in aid being transferred to Ukraine. Why shouldn’t the French participate in protests against such indifference from the administration?
The French are also holding protests against NATO. A majority of the French population would like to leave NATO, as was the case when President Charles de Gaulle withdrew from the organization in 1967. France only rejoined NATO in 2009 under then-President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is an affiliate of Klaus Schwab’s World Economic Forum and aspires to be seen as a torchbearer of liberal institutionalism.
There might be a moral obligation to support other countries in need, but the primary responsibility of governments should be to ensure the well-being and prosperity of their own citizens.
France is already struggling with issues such as poverty, unemployment, and inequality, and diverting resources to Ukraine can exacerbate these problems. As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, “No nation can be really great if it ignores the needs of its own people in their own land.” It is essential for Paris to address the needs of its own citizens before providing aid to others.
Moreover, foreign aid can only have a limited impact on the Russo-Ukrainian war. While aid can provide short-term relief, it is insufficient to address the underlying structural problems that Kyiv faces.
Macron should, therefore, listen to the needs of his own countrymen and reach a compromise as soon as possible. Otherwise, it will only be a matter of time before these protests escalate and mark the end of Macron’s political career.
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