In Whom Will French Society Place its Trust in 2027?

Miguel Ángel Ortiz-Serrano

5 mins - 21 de Marzo de 2023, 07:15

France is burning. It does so like a luminary, engulfed in flames that seem not to end but to grow with each new event that takes place. Last week, Macron decided to activate the now famous article 49.3 of the constitution of the Republic to push through his unpopular pension reform, preventing it from being voted on in parliament in order to send a double message: The government is determined to pass the reform whether it likes it or not, with or without allies. Thus, it alludes to trade unions and left-wing forces while singling out its main allies in the Assembly, Les Républicains, for the doubts raised by some of its most important members. As was expected, this went down like a bombshell in the French parliament, whose forces soon began to promote a vote of no-confidence against the government in order to bring down not only the unpopular Prime Minister Borne, but to drag Macron himself into the process. Although the motion was unlikely to succeed (in fact, there have been two), the government has weathered the storm by a margin of just nine votes, which does not bode well for the future. Firstly, President Emmanuel Macron has left Élisabeth Borne out to dry, whose cabinet is considered by most analysts to have been written off. The reform will presumably be approved against the majority opinion of French society, which will further heat up the mood and harden the cycle of protests in the coming days and weeks.

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However, there is a structural factor that may leave deep scars in the long run. If one leaves aside the electoral cost for Macron and his party 'La République en Marche' - which will be considerable - the approval of the reform by decree without a vote is one of the many symptoms of exhaustion shown by the French system stemming back more than 30 years ago in economic, political and social challenges. The President of the Republic argues that the system is not sustainable without the implementation of reforms of this kind, and that this will help to reduce the high level of public debt, which stands at around 110% of GDP. This way, France could be in a position to comply with the (future) fiscal rules of the European Union through a series of spending containment policies, the first leg of which would be the famous pension reform. Macron, therefore, is sticking to budgetary orthodoxy to give the image of an effective and efficient manager, even at the cost of bursting the last seams of the system of 1958.

It is true, the situation in France is not easy. The latest report of the Banque de France predicts that 2023 be an exceedingly difficult year, especially regarding inflation, which is yet to be brought under control despite the restrictive policy adopted by the ECB and which will continue to damage the purchasing power of French households.
Figure 1.- Breakdown of French CPI, annual change
Source: Banque de France

In fact, as can be seen in Fig. 1, energy is no longer the main force behind inflation, being replaced by food and services, which has not exactly helped to reduce social tensions. Therefore, the implementation of a reform such as the pension reform has been the straw that has broken the camel's back for many Frenchmen, and this time it is not only the CGT, the leading union, that has mobilised but also the more moderate unions such as the CFDT and CFTC, of a reformist and socio-liberal nature (CFTC defines itself as Christian, in fact), have joined the protests, in an escalation that forebodes a stormy spring and that for the first time in a while shows the existing distance between the French political class and the rest of society. Macron, who became president promising a democratising change in the heart of the Republic that would resolve the major problems it had been dragging along for decades, has ended up dynamiting all the bridges with the social agents to carry out reforms whose supposed benefits in the long term are not so clear to many experts. His electoral victories were the result of the trust placed in him by many French people who were not necessarily of his ideological stripe, and who, worried by the rise of the Rassemblement National, opted for him, who promised a 'social pivot' for his second term in office, which of course has not come. And now the question is: who will French society trust in 2027? En Marche may have represented a firewall with the far right in the last elections, but it is difficult for the project to endure until the next election, and even less so when the president wields such a lack of dialogue and empathy towards the population that is suffering the most in the current economic context. Thus, the panorama which these recent events leave in their wake is bleak with little hope for the future of a France that has long since been divided, whose night skies will continue burning. 
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