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French PM Borne reaches out to opposition, unions ahead of protests

France 24 logo France 24 27/03/2023 FRANCE 24
© Benoit Tessier, AP (archives)

French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne on Monday is set to start a series of consultations over the next three weeks with opposition MPs, political parties and local leaders after weeks of protests over pension reforms.

Following massive protests against the pension reforms, which raises the official retirement age from 62 to 64, Borne is set to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday.

Macron has asked Élisabeth Borne to “build a legislative platform” by reaching out to lawmakers in the National Assembly after the government rammed the pension reforms through the lower house of parliament using Article 49.3 of the French constitution, which grants executive privilege to pass a bill without a parliamentary vote.

The latest recourse to the measure triggered two votes of no-confidence, one of which the government survived by only nine votes – and sparked a furious reaction in the streets.

The protest movement against the pension reform has turned into the biggest domestic crisis of Macron's second mandate, with police and protesters clashing regularly in Paris and other French cities.

France’s unions have called for another day of strikes and demonstrations on Tuesday.

'Providing answers' to the French people

Borne on Sunday said she would meet opposition leaders early next month and was open to talks with unions.

In an interview with AFP, Borne said she would not make further use of Article 49.3 outside of budget matters.

Since becoming prime minister in May of last year, Borne has used the controversial constitutional article 11 times. 

Asked about her priorities for the coming weeks, she said: "I have two objectives: to bring calm to the country in the face of these tensions, and to step up providing answers to the expectations of the French people."

Borne said that during the week of April 3, she would meet parliamentary groups and political parties, including those of the opposition, in a bid to open dialogue and with the aim of "appeasing the country".

But Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former presidential candidate for the hard-left France Unbowed party, called Sunday for the pension reforms to be withdrawn and for Borne to go.

Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader who challenged Macron in the 2022 elections, has also said Borne "should go or be made to resign by the president".

Police criticised for heavy-handed tactics

Since January, hundreds of thousands of French people have peacefully marched against the reform.

But a wave of strikes – including one by Paris garbage collectors, which has left the streets strewn with garbage – and sometimes violent protests against the government's reform has attracted increasing attention in the international media.

The security forces have faced criticism for what critics say are their heavy-handed tactics in dealing with the protests.

The Council of Europe said Friday that peaceful protesters and journalists had to be protected from police violence and arbitrary arrest.

On Saturday, Borne and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin both defended the police, denouncing the violence of hard-core protesters.

On Sunday, the IGPN, the internal affairs unit of the French police, said it had opened 17 investigations into incidents since the protests began on January 19.

Last week, the French authorities announced that a visit by Britain's King Charles III, which had been due to begin Sunday, had been postponed because of the current unrest.

A protester was fighting for his life on Sunday following clashes with police during a demonstration over water storage facilities in the southwestern village of Sainte-Soline.

Stressing that she was open to talks with all social partners, she added: "We have to find the right path ... We need to calm down."

But she also said the pensions reform would go ahead, subject to approval by the Constitutional Council, which will rule on the constitutionality of the legislation.

Opposition parties are hoping the Council will rule against the government over the reform because of the way it was forced through parliament without a vote.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)


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