Protests Continue to Roil France as President Macron Ponders Pension Changes

Protests Continue to Roil France as President Macron Ponders Pension Changes

Thorin Wenner

On March 23, there were chaotic scenes in Paris as police clashed with anarchists and other protesters in the French capital.[1] This was the ninth successive day of protesting, and they were not just limited to Paris; train and air travel across the country were disrupted by protests.[2] The intensity of the government response can be seen in recordings of police, some of whom were caught threatening arrested protesters with injury.[3]

The reason for this strong show of force from the French public is a proposed change to France’s pension system, a reform proposal which has now tested the legitimacy of French President Emmanuel Macron.[4] Macron has proposed reforms which would raise the minimum retirement age in France from 62 to 64, apparently to make the pension system more economically sustainable.[5] If this reform is put in place, France would still have one of the lowest retirement ages of all developed countries, in which retirement ages tend to be 65 and have increased more recently as life expectancies increase.[6] However, it may be less the actual retirement age and more the context of this proposed change which has caused so much ire in France. Despite praise for the French economy and its resilience through the COVID pandemic, low- and middle-income French people have experienced soaring energy prices, particularly gas for heating, as well as fuel prices for their vehicles.[7] This is in addition to rising food prices.[8] Prior to the pension reform protests, similar demonstrations had occurred due to the state of the economy, and the plight of the average French has caused a rise in poll performance for extreme political parties on the right and left.[9] It therefore seems that the pension reform could be the straw that broke the camel’s back – despite attempts to stem the crises of the middle and working classes through economic intervention.[10]

Additionally, the method of passing this reform could stoke political flames. Macron is pushing the pension reform through the French Parliament without a vote.[11] This has been accomplished through Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, which allows the Prime Minister, once per government term, to pass a finance or social security financing bill merely through passing a vote of confidence in the National Assembly, unless a no-confidence vote is carried within the following twenty-four hours.[12] Macron seems to have invoked this procedure because without it, a parliamentary vote may have failed to pass the reform bill.[13] The subsequent no-confidence vote to interrupt the Article 49.3 procedure only narrowly failed.[14] The reform therefore seems inevitable, yet protests continue and could have significant consequences.

A visit to France by King Charles III was postponed due to a request from Macron’s government after unions called for protests on the day of the visit.[15] Leftist politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon used this as an opportunity to claim that Macron was weak on security and saw this as an embarrassment for the French government, which had earlier the same day made assurances that there would be adequate security for the visit and then it would proceed.[16]

With the credibility of the Macron government questioned, a rise in political extremism and violence, and the presence of a government which has now denied a democratic vote on an important pension reform, albeit through constitutional procedures, it remains a question whether protests will continue or abate as the reform is put in place. Members of the President’s own party, however, seem to be looking for an escape route, and so the events surrounding the pension changes may have significant political ramifications for the country in a period of growing economic pessimism.[17]


[1] Horari Garcia et al., Violence hits France in day of anger over Macron’s pension changes, Reuters (Mar. 23, 2023),

[2] Id.

[3] Antoine Albertini, French police caught on tape during protest arrest: ‘I can tell you, we have broken elbows and faces’, Le Monde (Mar. 24, 2023),

[4] Michele Barbero, To Save His Pension Reform Bill, Macron Has Lost France, Foreign Pol’y (Mar. 24, 2023),

[5] Id.

[6] Hanna Ziady & Olesya Dmitracova, The French are up in arms over retiring at 64. How do other countries compare?, CNN (Mar. 24, 2023),

[7] John Lichfield, It’s the (French) economy, stupid. But whose economy?, Politico (Feb. 1, 2022),

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Clea Skopeliti & Sam Gecsoyler, ‘Democracy is broken’: French public divided on pensions and protests, Guardian (Mar. 25, 2023),

[12] 1958 Const. 49.3.

[13] Hugh Schofield & Robert Plummer, French pension protests: Clashes after Macron orders rise in pension age without vote, BBC News (Mar. 16, 2023),

[14] Skopelti & Gecsoyler, supra note 11.

[15] Paul Kirby et al., King Charles’ France visit postponed after pension protests, BBC News (Mar. 24, 2023),

[16] Id.

[17] Mattieu Goar et al., Macron’s own camp worried by French president’s inflexibility on pension reform, Le Monde (Mar. 25, 2023),