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Thousands gathered at the Place de la Concorde to denounce the government’s use of a constitutional loophole to pass the pension reform, raising the retirement age without a vote in the National Assembly.

Marie Magnin/Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect

What We’re Watching: France’s fiery response, Poland’s first big step, Israeli president’s “civil war” warning

Macron bypasses the legislature on pension reform

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday made the risky call to bypass the National Assembly, France’s powerful lower house, and push through a very unpopular pension reform scheme.

As expected, protesters responded with anger. More than 300 people were arrested overnight, and on Friday morning demonstrators halted production at a fuel refinery and briefly blocked traffic on a highway outside Paris.

(A brief recap on the proposal that’s sent France into a tailspin: Macron’s government wants to incrementally raise the national retirement age by two years to 64 by 2030. Starting from 2027, workers will need to have worked for 43 years, up from 41, to access a full pension.)

Why’s he doing this? Macron has long said that France's public spending, 14% of which goes toward its pension scheme – the highest of any OECD country after Greece and Italy – is crucial to addressing its growing debt-to-GDP ratio. But this approach is very unpopular in France, where retirement is sacred and government interference is abhorred.

Fearing he wouldn’t have the votes in the lower chamber, Macron triggered a constitutional loophole to get the bill through (it had already passed in the upper chamber). But by taking this route – which his political opponents say renders the bill illegitimate, though it is legal – Macron now opens himself up to serious political blowback.

On Friday, a group of opposition centrist lawmakers — backed by the far-left NUPES coalition — filed a no-confidence vote against the government, while far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced she'll table her own. But any vote would need to pass by an absolute majority to topple the government – meaning PM Élisabeth Borne and the cabinet, not the president. Still, that’s very unlikely to happen, analysts say.

But Macron, who cannot run again after 2027 due to term limits, is not out of the woods. Unions have vowed to make the government pay, and prolonged strikes are expected. Meanwhile, far-left and far-right factions say they’ll intensify efforts to topple the French government.

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