Protests and governance in France

Macron has a mandate for change

Sir, – Malachi O’Sullivan (Letters, March 27th) resides in another region of France and makes a number of valid points concerning the current crisis shaking the French body politic to its foundations.

As I live in a quarter of Paris which has seen demonstrations, riots, baton charges, tear gas, injuries to both the policemen and demonstrators and mountains of uncollected rubbish set on fire, it is perhaps not easy to maintain a dispassionate and objective view of current events but one must do so.

Emmanuel Macron has always included in his electoral platforms a reform of the state-administered pension and retirement scheme, a scheme of which I myself am a beneficiary every month. On this point of policy, he has always remained perfectly clear and his position has triggered months and years of passionate argument, consultation and debate.

Less than a year ago, 11 candidates lined up for the French presidential election, giving the French electorate, of which I am a naturalised member, the widest ideological and policy choices of any democratic country in the world. In an impeccable exercise of universal suffrage, free of an American-style filter of an electoral college, the voters chose to directly re-elect Emmanuel Macron and chose not to elect one of the other candidates, a number of whom proposed to leave the retirement scheme as it was or to reduce the retirement age from 62 to 60, without providing excessive detail as to the manner in which such policies could be financed in the face of structural demographic and economic shifts.


At the subsequent elections to the National Assembly, Mr Macron’s party had the largest number of candidates elected and last week this democratically-elected lower house of parliament rejected a no confidence vote in the government on the very issue of the reform of the pension and retirement scheme.

Last year, abstention hovered about 26 per cent in the first round of the presidential election and 28 per cent in the second. In the parliamentary elections which followed, abstention rates were about 52 per cent and 53 per cent. At best, this would appear to indicate apathy and indifference, at worst a rejection of a highly democratic system that many of President Macron’s fiercest critics now quite rightly place on a pedestal to be respected.

The contradictions and irony are so clear that one feels duty bound to remind many of the critics and demonstrators, those truly concerned, genuinely well-intentioned and otherwise, that democratic decisions are made in the ballot box, in fairly elected assemblies, and not primarily on the tree-lined boulevards of French towns and cities, lovely and appropriate as these same boulevards may be for both strolling and marching in the sun and breeze of early spring, before the inevitable mayhem breaks out. – Yours, etc,