Protests across France Friday escalated after French President Emmanuel Macron “forced” through a pension reform bill without a parliamentary vote. French authorities arrested more than 300 people during spontaneous protests in opposition to the bill to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 in an attempt to preserve the nation’s budget.
In Paris, thousands of demonstrators gathered at Place de la Concorde, lit several fires and damaged shopfronts, causing police to disperse crowds using tear gas and water cannons. Friday morning, 200 protestors blocked traffic in Paris. Several shops and banks were ransacked in Marseille and protesters in Rennes and Nantes set fire to garbage cans, deployed fireworks and destroyed furniture. According to RTL, some members of Parliament requested additional security and police protection, fearing violence from demonstrators.
French union CGT called for mobilization on Thursday evening following French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne’s announcement that the government would bypass a vote in the National Assembly on the reforms.
Responding to the protests, French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin said, “[T]he opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but wreaking havoc is not.” He denounced the violent demonstrations, specifically referencing effigies of Macron, Borne and other ministers protestors burnt in Dijon.
Under Macron’s instruction, Borne invoked Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, which allows the government to pass a bill without a vote at the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament. Borne invoked the power during a National Assembly session, which was shortly suspended following outcry and protest from the lower house. Parliamentarians booed Borne and called for her to resign, and began singing the French national anthem to prevent her from speaking.
Several National Assembly members denounced the decision to invoke Article 49.3. Former LFI deputy Jean-Luc Mélenchon called the decision a “spectacular failure,” stating that the reforms were voted, “only by the Senate, neither by the mass of French people, nor by the National Assembly, nor by the unions, nor by the workers’ associations.”