by Peter Allen
Tuesday, 21
March 2023
Dispatch
10:24

Paris rises up against ‘King Macron’

Charles's forthcoming visit to France couldn't come at a more difficult time
by Peter Allen
Photo: Peter Allen. Taken at Place de la Concorde.

Paris

Macabre references to beheadings have dominated the latest crisis in French democracy. “Decapitate Macron” graffiti is commonplace, as protesters compare the President of the 5th Republic to an ancien régime monarch fit only for the guillotine. 


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They are furious at the way he bypassed a parliamentary vote on raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 last week, and instead pushed through the hugely unpopular measure by emergency decree. Even when opponents of Emmanuel Macron’s government attempted to bring it down with two no-confidence votes on Monday, both failed — the principal one by only nine votes. This was despite opinion polls showing that close to 70% of the country is against the reform, and multiple MPs receiving death threats advising them not to support Macron.

Constituents reacted with more of the rioting which first broke out on the Place de la Concorde — the largest square in Paris, and the place where Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette were executed at the height of the French Revolution. 

“Of course, people are angry — the parliamentary system isn’t working,” a 19-year-old protester told me as he made his way through the city with a gang on Monday night. “Macron thinks he’s the king and can do whatever he likes, despite nobody agreeing with his policies.”

Gatherings have by now been banned on Concorde, so the fast-moving protesters were destroying building sites nearby, setting fire to bins, and chanting “Rise up Paris!” Convoys of police vans were in pursuit with sirens blazing, all of them full of riot control officers preparing to engage the citizenry with batons and tear gas. In all, 234 arrests were made in the capital last night.

While youngsters inevitably spearhead the disorder — many are students who can outrun plodding police wearing body armour — there are plenty from older generations who join in. They include manual workers approaching retirement — those who feel that Macron, a former merchant banker and tax civil servant, represents a soft financier class with little idea about what real labour entails.

Demonstrators are trying to replicate the success of the Gilets Jaunes — the Yellow Vest movement that regularly rioted from November 2018, in the early months of the Macron presidency. They caused millions of euros worth of damage, and turned many upmarket areas of Paris into battlegrounds every Saturday, their designated protest day.

The Gilets Jaunes had a great deal of political success too: following an early uprising on the Champs-Élysées that saw the Arc de Triomphe itself sacked, Macron scrapped green taxes on fuel. Such U-turns are relatively common when the street speaks in France, including over the vexed issue of pension reform.

In 1995, then-President Jacques Chirac tried to change the universal retirement system, but dropped all his new measures following three weeks of paralysis, including widespread rioting. Subsequent heads of state, notably Nicolas Sarkozy, also saw many of their liberal economic policies — once aimed at balancing budgets and reducing reliance on the state — foiled by mob dissent. In this sense, concerted expressions of ferocity can and do work, especially when parliament fails to reflect the views of the population. 

The 5th Republic favours an overwhelmingly powerful presidential government: it was founded in 1958 by Charles de Gaulle, who wanted an “elected monarch” to dominate rather than a National Assembly and Senate wracked by division and intransigence. Disorder comes when this republican king (there has never been a female president of France) is perceived as becoming too aloof and disconnected from the wishes of ordinary people.

Beyond hiding away in the Élysée during the current crisis, including making convenient trips abroad, Macron has been preparing for a state visit to Paris by the British monarch, King Charles III, which starts on Sunday. Plans include a glittering state banquet at Versailles — one that will do absolutely nothing to reduce the allusions to monarchical executions being aimed at the man once hailed as the new Sun King.

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Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago

France continues to blunder on, failing to face up to reality. Universal retirement at 62 ! With no pensions funds to pay for it. Totally unsustainable.
Much as I despise Macron, he’s doing the right thing here. Except that 64 is still much too low these days.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Indeed, in America most of us will be fortunate to retire at 65 (or 67?) and have enough in savings, never mind the complete debacle that is Social Security! But protestations contre le gouvernement, no?

Tony Price
Tony Price
2 months ago

Well if you Yanks, and especially the richer ones, paid European tax rates then maybe you would have a social welfare system worthy of the name.

Tony Price
Tony Price
2 months ago

I concur with what I imagine the majority of the Unherd commentariat will say, which is that pension reform, in France and elsewhere, is necessary as lifespan has greatly outrun the current system. But some serious thought needs to be given to that as it ain’t quite so simple. After c.60 most people do slow down, both mentally and physically) and those who have had a predominantly manual working life (and not many of those read Unherd I would surmise) really are pretty stuffed by then. Our minds and bodies are simply not made to live as long as modern medical practice now allows them to do, so they wear out. Provision has to be made somehow to keep people working longer but much more easily. I am not wise enough to come up with the answer, but I suspect it involves more state intervention and easy job provision, perhaps not a popular path on here so please come up with an alternative strategy.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I’ve spent my life on building sites and not many lads make it to 60 still doing the manual stuff. The bodies start to break down mid 40’s, so we either shift into the office or get out of the trades completely. The few old boys still grafting on site are usually held together with pins and tape

Peter B
Peter B
2 months ago

So where is this “European military architecture” of which you speak ?
And what is this low visibility outfit actually doing ? For example, on its own doorstep in Ukraine ?
If I may, I suggest that the Poles have a much better understanding of who underwrites European security than the French. And are doing a lot more about actually defending European interests right now. As they did in WWII.
Finally, Europe is not – today – the core of Western civilisation. Western civilisation includes the entire Anglosphere (USA, Canada, Australia, NZ), plus many other countries beyond Europe (Japan, South Korea, Singapore). Doubtless I missed quite a few. But most of these are faster growing (economically and in population) than Europe which is in terminal relative decline. And has no plan to do anything to reverse that. We can all wish that weren’t true. But we must deal with the facts as they are.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
2 months ago

I agree with you, that the French should raise their retirement age to at least 65 years as most other European nations already have.
But your second point that the US is finished is very much exaggerated. The increase of Latinos is not a big deal, as a matter of fact most of them oppose wokeness and have conservative views about family. If DeSantis becomes President, it is because the Latino vote will increase on his side. As Reagan once said: Latinos are Republican, they just don’t know it yet.

Last edited 2 months ago by Stephanie Surface
Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
2 months ago

This life expectancy increase theory is seriously getting under my skin.
A man of 60 today is not going to see his life expectancy increase…..this is total and utter nonsense. On the other hand, he is going to have to work 2 more years.with the health he has …..today.

When one speaks about life expectancy……..it is …..at birth.

What should be taken into account is life expectancy in good health…….and France is doing poorly………compared to Scandinavia. The USA in that department is a horror show and a happy one for the pharmaceutical industry.
The attitude in France has always been “ the doctor will fix it “ almost no prevention policy unlike countries like Sweden for example.
Medical students prefer to be radiologists or skin doctor, public health is the least chosen curriculum.
Seen from Sweden what’s going on in France is just surreal.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  Bruno Lucy

What’s your point? People are living longer, so in order to pay for the pension then people either need to work longer or increase taxes on an already overburdened younger generation

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

If older people dropped working hours so that two older people shared one job, i.e working half-time, that income would probably be enough to keep them off the pension but still able to support themselves – most having paid off the mortgage by then.

M. M.
M. M.
2 months ago

Peter Allen wrote, “They are furious at the way he bypassed a parliamentary vote on raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 last week, and instead pushed through the hugely unpopular measure by emergency decree.”

As the French lifespan increases, the retirement age must also increase because the additional years of life require additional goods and services, which must be produced by the French themselves.

President Emmanuel Macron understands this fact, so he is determined to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, which is still too low. By contrast, the Japanese retirement age is 70.

The choice for the French is either to plan ahead by raising the retirement age now or to wait until national bankruptcy forces raising it in the future. The French electorate wants the second option, and Macron should give it to them so that they can learn the painful lesson of the national bankruptcy.

Macron has exhibited great foresight on another important issue: establishing a European military architecture that is independent of the United States and its proxy, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

By 2040, the United States will cease being a Western nation, due to open borders. By 2040, most Americans will reject Western culture (as the American population is swelled by anti-Western migrants from primarily Latin America and secondarily South Asia), and Hispanic culture will dominate. In California, 40% of the residents are currently Hispanic. Most residents of the state already reject Western culture, and Hispanic culture dominates.

In other words, by 2040, the non-Western United States will cease being an ally of Western nations like France. The non-Western American government will implement policies that harm French interests.

The choice for the Europeans is either to plan ahead by severing ties to NATO now or to wait until American hostility (toward Western civilization) forces this severing in the future. Some Eastern Europeans (like the Poles) want the second option, but Macron should adamantly oppose it because the security of Europe impacts not only Eastern Europe but but also impacts the the rest of Europe. Europe is the core of Western civilization.

Get more info about this issue.

Jeanie K
Jeanie K
2 months ago

USA will be finished much sooner than 2040. There will then be less trouble and wars in the World.