Paris: French President Emmanuel Macron is looking to move on and work on new reforms in the coming weeks after his government barely survived a no-confidence motion on Monday over an unpopular pension reform, a source said.
Macron does not plan any reshuffle or snap elections and has ruled out withdrawing the pension law, which will raise the retirement age by two years to 64, the source who took part in meetings between Macron and key allies on Tuesday told Reuters.
He will instead try and use a TV interview on Wednesday to “calm things down,” the source said.
With unions stepping up strikes and protests against the pension reform continuing across the country, Macron faces the most dangerous challenge to his authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago.
Some in Macron’s own camp have warned him against continuing with business as usual.
“We are all weakened. The president, the government and the majority,” a senior MP in Macron’s camp, Gilles Le Gendre, told Liberation newspaper. “It’s not because the law was adopted that we can do business as usual.” Another MP in Macron’s camp, Patrick Vignal, bluntly urged the president to suspend the pension reform bill in the face of the anger it has triggered, and its deep unpopularity.
Protesters played cat-and-mouse with police in cities across France for a fifth night on Monday, setting bins and barricades on fire.
What may concern the executive is the large number of young people in the demonstrations.
Television images showed police firing tear gas and charging at protesters in several towns. Some special motor bike officers were seen striking out at protesters.
In another sign of growing anger, scuffles broke out on Tuesday next to at ExxonMobil’s Fos-sur-Mer oil refinery, as the government took steps to order striking workers back to work, footage from BFM TV showed.
The refinery site was enveloped in tear gas, while some demonstrators intermittently threw objects at police lines, BFM said.
Polls show a wide majority of French are opposed to the pension reform, as well as the government’s decision to push the bill through parliament without a vote.
“I think this was a denial of democracy. The government passed a law which a majority of French people were against,” script writer Jean Regnaud said.
Opposition MPs urged Macron to fire Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, call snap elections and hold a referendum on the pension bill because of the widespread anger.
“The government is finished,” said Fabien Roussel, secretary general of the Communist party.
Sacha Houlie, an MP in Macron’s camp, brushed off the possibility of a change of prime minister.
“What we expect from the President of the Republic is that he draws up an outlook ... a three-, six-month calendar (of reforms),” he told Reuters, saying he hoped for proposals on issues including how businesses could be pushed to share more of their profits with workers.
A nationwide day of strikes and protests is planned for Thursday.
“These are basically Macron’s two choices,” Eurointelligence analysts wrote in a note. “Pretending that nothing major happened and letting the crisis wear itself out, or pursuing co-habitation with the willing in the assembly.” “Given Macron’s nature, we see him being more attracted to the first option. A risky bet.” More than 200 people were arrested on Monday evening, police said, after spontaneous protests broke out hours after the no-confidence motion failed.
Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said there would be an investigation after footage of a police officer punching a protester went viral.