Macron pension battle puts the French elite in a dilemma

Photo by Clement Mahoudeau/AFP

Contributed by Ben Wilson

Embattled French President Emmanuel Macron continues to face the enmity of the French. Months of strikes and protests continue over the raising of the retirement age. This has taken the shape of a battle over what sort of nation France is going to be in the future, and it has implications for Europe and the world.

Unions have acted together in a show of unity that hasn’t been seen for a long time. Students and youth in general are taking part in big numbers. The turmoil is in the big cities and tow across the country.

Forcing the change through by decree, rather than going through the process of a parliamentary vote – which would have defeated it – has raised an uproar. Most French see this as an act against democracy. In combination with brutal police suppression of protests the swelled, and this has included the defence of democracy.

Photo from AP: at least 1.5 million marched in Paris on 12 April

This provides evidence that the Marcon administration is running scared, and ultimately fighting for its ongoing survival.

The political crisis this has caused, is really the result of ongoing and building tensions over time. France is beset with economic troubles and the old two-party political system is in disarray. In fact, this is what was behind the rise of Macron in the first place. The former prominent member of the Socialist Party and as the party came close to extinction, he became the face of a new hope for the political elite. The conservative Republicans fell nearly as far, which provided space for the rise of new political movements.

Marcon’s job was to save the day for a section of the political elite. Another section turned to the Marine le Pen led and far right National Rally. Up till now, the Macron camp has had the upper hand. But it started to unravel with the rise of the Yellow Vest movement. National rally capitalised on this in the early days, but the Yellow Vests moved in a different direction.

Their rise was a signal that something significant is going on in French society outside the closed off world of the elite. The population was getting frustrated and angry. The question for the elite is how to respond?

Pressure put by the Yellow Vests propelled Macron into some damage control through a national tour. He got plenty of flak from communities along the way. It’s the same thing again. There is a new tour, and angry crowds gather outside town halls, banging pots and doing other things to get attention, in every town he visits.

Polls show that he and his supporters would get a drubbing at the polls. In fact, they suggest Marine le Pen would win a presidential race. One part of the elite is giving way to the other.

But there is a third rising force. This is the new re-alignment of forces around the France Unbowed party led by Jean Luc Melenchon and founded on 10 February 2016. and has grown enormously in s short pace of time, inspired by a mixture of building dissatisfaction among workers and other social sectors, and the example of Spain’s Podemos. Melenchon came a very close third at the last presidential election and gained a major presence in the subsequent parliamentary elections.

In the streets the Yellow Vests joined the movement led by France Unbowed, and the rise of protests against the raising of the retirement age saw the party play a prominent role once again.

France has become the new inspiration for Europe and much of the world of the world. There could well be flow on effects. Many countries are suffering the problems facing the French.

The movement around France Unbowed is not going to go away. It has become a central player in the nation, and a mark of its political polarisation. France is in a time of change.

How this battle is going to end remains uncertain. It may topple soon or fail at the next elections. This could pave the way for a new government led by le Pen, as more of the elite puts its fortunes there. There is also opportunity for France Unbowed to step up.

France faces a stark choice.

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