Undemocratic spirit of French pension reforms

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version
Send to friend: 

BAKU, Azerbaijan, March 27. The latest protests in France are a symptom of a systemic pathology of French political discourse, which plagues the country for some time. It should not come as a surprise that the traditionally politically vocal French people chose a rather radical approach to voice their grievances, as the indicators of an impending crisis were clearly observable for some time.

Various reports suggest that the number of protestors exceeded 1 million people as President Emmanuel Macron driven pension reform was forced. The reform will increase the retirement age by two years, to 64.

This is not the first occurrence of protests during the presidency of Emmanuel Macron. Since being elected the President, he faced large-scale protests due to his unpopular economic policies. In this sense, President Macron is a battle-hardened veteran, who knows how to survive despite the non-stop protests and strikes, aimed at influencing his policy decisions.

But what makes the current societal crisis stand out? It would be possible to argue that the violent crackdown on protestors is one of the elements, however, we do not see this as a defining factor.

It is imperative that we analyze two major issues, which will further our understanding of the phenomenon. First, which mechanisms explain the grievances of the French population? Second, what was the element that led to the escalation of protests? Examining these issues will enable us to pass judgment on the government’s handling of the latest crisis. Additionally, this approach will help us understand why there is possibly more at stake in this situation than a simple increase in the retirement age.

Understanding the causes of protests

In a nutshell, the development of a protest movement can be explained by several key reasons. First, is the feeling of relative deprivation, which can be summarized as a lack of opportunities to sustain the lifestyle that individuals or society are accustomed to. President Macron is trying to impose his ideas on how the population should live, which is understandably met with hostility by hardworking people in France.

The perceived distance between political elites and decision-makers in France, and the general population, is another reason for the grievances. It is a very hard reality to accept for ordinary people in France, particularly considering the results of the Elabe opinion poll released last year. The poll indicates that 70 percent of respondents opposed the increase in the retirement age. In light of the poll results, and the subsequent decision of the government to amend the retirement age, it becomes somewhat more apparent that the grievances of the population are unaddressed by the decision-makers.

This brings us to an interesting, albeit theoretical, observation of the Marxism-driven nature of the protests. There is certainly a divide between the working population and politicians making decisions, which does little to alleviate the existing hardships of the population.

Article 49.3: the specifics of French democracy that escalated the protests

Another potential issue that is apparent here is the way how the initiative of President Macron was forced. In order to execute the decision, Article 49.3 of the French Constitution was executed. This subsection of the article enables the government to push a bill through the lower house of the French Parliament, the National Assembly. It is a perfectly legal procedure, as it is a part of the French constitution since its inception in 1958, which was included to grant a level of control in times of parliamentary instability.

There is a price to be paid, however, as a no-confidence vote can be filed against the government. Should the no-confidence vote be supported by more than half of the legislators, the government will be dissolved. Historically, the chances of a no-confidence motion toppling the government are very slim, which is something that happened in this case, as well.

Despite the fact that the whole procedure is legal, there is a significant problem associated with it. It is not a democratic procedure. On paper, the French government acted in line with the democratic principles set forth in the Constitution. The move, however, was undemocratic in spirit. President Macron used the safeguards aimed at guaranteeing the seamless functioning of the government and the country to push unpopular legislation.

The approach that the head of state took is a threat to democratic norms, as it enables the president to push any kind of legislation through the lower house of the parliament. This means that at any given time French society, which is based on democratic values and principles, may face a totalitarian rule enforced by a politician.

After what happened, at least some ordinary people may start considering that the elected officials, who have to protect their interests, betrayed them by purposefully pushing a piece of legislation that will diminish the living standard.

Government’s position is a threat to democracy

President Macron pushes the initiative as a measure to make the national pension system sustainable. According to the head of state, people spend around 25 years in retirement, which affects the economy negatively. This makes sense, however, this argument is rather flimsy for several reasons.

First, people should not be forced to work due to the government’s inability to carry out their duties effectively. The fact that the national pension system is unsustainable is not the fault of the average French citizen. It is unfair and a breach of a “social contract” between the government and its citizens.

Second, forcing people to work for an extra two years will lead to a sharp decline in productivity during the extra two years. The national economy will have a portion of the population, which produces less than it can. This will happen just because these people will have to “sit through” the extra two years.

From a moral standpoint, it is extremely challenging to justify the overall approach of the French ruling elites. Citizens of France, who are likely to work longer to reach retirement age, were left in a very bad situation because the politicians are interested in using legal leverage to push through any kind of legislation, which undermines the principles of democracy. This is a dangerous pathway, which threatens to plunge a democratic society into tyranny.

 

The protests against the decisions made by the French legislators were two-pronged. First, the demonstrators protested against the rise of the retirement age, which was a unifying factor that explains why the movement remained cohesive. However, a more important element of the situation is that the actions of the French government served as a catalyst that escalated the situation.

It is very likely that people in France will have to deal with the retirement age amendment without being able to affect the situation. Understandably, it is a rather unfortunate development. The circumstances surrounding the adoption of the legislation, however, will, probably, spark a discussion regarding the limits of Article 49.3 and its impact on the level of democracy in France.