Everything old is new again as French dissenters protest Macron’s government en masse.
“Many of the things that we have to do today, in a time of crisis — and that we will have to do in the coming months and years — will structure the life of our country in the long run,” said French President Emmanuel Macron on the reelection campaign trail in 2022.
“We are at a tipping point where we can make a real difference,” Macron told his supporters, promising to, “make France a more self-sufficient nation,” if reelected.
“We will continue with reforms to the labour market, continuing to simplify social dialogue, continuing to give visibility to employers and employees,” Macron vowed. “We will continue with reforms to unemployment insurance to adapt it to the economic situation.”
“The reform I want to carry out is to increase the legal retirement age gradually,” Macron explained in 2022. “To bring the legal age up to 65 years.”
Elections, as they say in the United States, have consequences.
One of those consequences is that the ruling political party gets to rule. For better or for worse, the ideas and policy platforms espoused by these elected officials are occasionally — and even sometimes accidentally — enacted in the public sphere.
In this case, French President Emmanuel Macron used his authority last week to override parliament and raise the retirement age in France.
How strong is Macron’s mandate for this type of unilateral reform?
Emmanuel Macron was elected President of France in 2017, after winning the second round of the French presidential election. According to POLITICO research, Macron received 66.1% of the vote — a comfortable margin — while his opponent, Marine La Pen, received only 33.9%.
In 2022, Macron only received 58.5% of the vote to La Pen’s 41.5%.
“Macron reelected but Le Pen’s big score shows France increasingly divided,” reported POLITICO on April 24, 2022. “The French president has won another term but faces rough ride after far-right reaches historic high.”
“More than 12 million people chose Le Pen, about 5 million more than during her last presidential bid in 2017 — an increase that suggests that her strategy of trying to bring her party into the political mainstream has been largely successful,” admitted the news outlet.
Considering this erosion of support, how strong is Macron’s mandate? And, more importantly, how strong will it be after this?
If the protests that have ensued are any indication, not very strong at all.
“A dog day afternoon in French politics as Macron uses ‘nuclear option’ to raise retirement age,” reported France 24 on Thursday. It was a perfect description of the firestorm that has erupted in France since the news was first announced.
But it isn’t as if Macron hasn’t been signaling his intentions for years.
In August of 2022, Macon again warned of austerity measures ahead for French citizens.
“This overview that I’m giving — the end of abundance, the end of insouciance, the end of assumptions — it’s ultimately a tipping point that we are going through that can lead our citizens to feel a lot of anxiety,” Macron said in a speech.
While he pledged unequivocal support for the war effort in Ukraine, he charged French citizens, “to accept paying the price of liberty.”
“I don’t think there’ll be a big wide-ranging protest movement, but I do think we see a range of protests in different parts of the country, some like the Yellow Jacket,” one Macron official told POLITICO last year in reference to the president’s second term.
The “Yellow Jacket” movement (Mouvement des gilets jaunes in French) is a social movement that started in France in November 2018. The movement was initially triggered by a proposed fuel tax hike, which was seen as disproportionately affecting low-income earners who rely on their cars for transportation.
The movement takes its name from the high-visibility yellow vests that protesters wear, which are mandatory safety gear for drivers in France.
The movement quickly gained momentum and evolved into a broader protest against the cost of living, income inequality, and perceived elitism among the political class. The protests turned violent in some instances, leading to clashes with police and vandalism of public property. The movement has also sparked debates about social and economic policies in France, as well as the role of citizens in shaping government decisions.
Although the “Yellow Jacket” movement has lost some of its initial momenta since 2018, protests and demonstrations have continued sporadically in France. Now, it seems they may be roaring back to life.
“Paris police, protestors clash for third night over Macron’s pension reform,” reported NBC News yesterday, adding that, “The growing unrest and strikes have left President Emmanuel Macron facing the gravest challenge to his authority since the so-called ‘Gilets Jaunes’ (Yellow Vests) protests four years ago.”
As a result of the unrest and strikes, trash has already begun piling up in the streets of Paris, leading to public health concerns.
“The concentration of waste, especially food, puts the population at risk, poses a public hygiene problem and promotes the proliferation of rats, vectors of disease,” warned the Paris police prefecture in a statement on Friday.
“It’s going to be a rocky ride,” a Macron administration official predicted, presciently, in 2022.
Witnessing Emmanuel Macron’s troubles in France, who will want to take this rocky ride in the United States?
The Social Security program in the United States is facing financial challenges similar to those plaguing the French system. There is a projected funding gap in the coming years as the number of retirees grows relative to the number of workers contributing to the program.
As in France, there is a strong need to address the long-term financial sustainability of the Social Security program in the U.S.
According to projections from the Social Security Board of Trustees, the program’s trust funds are expected to be depleted by 2034, which means that if no action is taken, the program will only be able to pay out benefits at a reduced level.
To address these challenges, policymakers and experts have proposed a range of potential solutions, such as increasing payroll taxes, increasing the retirement age, reducing benefits, or some combination of these approaches.
The Social Security program is an essential safety net for many Americans. Who wants to tackle its insolvency with austerity measures a la Emmanuel Macron?
The resounding answer from Washington is the same today as it has been since at least 2016: “Nobody.”
Though everyone admits the insolvency problems in the U.S. Social Security system, neither Republicans nor Democrats want the political baggage that will inevitably accompany any proposed cuts to program benefits and entitlements.
“What is true: We are headed for a debt crisis; Social Security and Medicare need reform; and Democrats are not interested in addressing debt reduction,” wrote associate editor A.B. Stoddard for Real Clear Politics last week. “Also true: The pre-Trump Republican Party used to be committed to limited government and debt reduction.”
“Even now, Trump will not brook debate of even reasonable, modest, and interim fixes which could extend solvency,” complained Stoddard. “And since DeSantis remains the biggest threat to Trump winning the nomination, the Florida governor’s past support for entitlement reforms is now Trump’s favorite subject. While serving in the House, DeSantis voted for several budget resolutions that would have made changes to the programs, including phasing in the eligibility age to 70.”
If DeSantis did vote that way once upon a time, it’s doubtful he would voice such an unpopular position today. Any American politician thinking to raise the U.S. retirement age is almost certainly in favor of Macron’s reform, and just as certainly watching the events in France unfold as a cautionary tale.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)