Tout ça pour ça
It came down to the wire, and in the end the president simply did not have the votes. Nor did he have enough arm-twisting clout to persuade the fence-sitters whose support might have encouraged the government to take a chance on an up-or-down vote in the Assemblée Nationale. So Elisabeth Borne, despite all her efforts to appease Républicain deputies, was forced against her better judgment to resort to Article 49-3 and may now pay the price: un remaniement is a time-honored way of pretending that a loss is on the prime minister rather than the president.
But in reality, no matter what he does, Macron is left with little or no camouflage to hide his humiliating defeat. Now that the reform bill has been forced through–un vice démocratique, in the words of Laurent Berger, and it’s hard to read it any other way–Macron, the erstwhile Jupiter, is now an emperor without clothes and will likely remain so for the rest of his term. With all his political capital now squandered on pension reform, he at last holds the prize in his hand, but it hardly matters. The protesters will remain in the streets for some time to come, and any palliative measures forthcoming from the Elysée, such as a purported bill to make French workplaces more bearable now that everyone faces two additional years in what many French workers seem to regard as something akin to prison, will be greeted with jeers rather than cheers. Macron’s name will be joined to the long list of failed reformers, as France limps on to the next election.
It didn’t have to be this way. Had Macron stuck to his original plan of thoroughly overhauling the pension system rather than merely raising the legal age of retirement, he might have eked out a majority. But that plan fell victim to Covid, and its replacement fell victim to the presidential hubris that has been Macron’s nemesis from the beginning. He seems stuck in the past, clinging to the neoliberal pieties that used to be worshiped by all the bien-pensants, even as the economic and geopolitical landscape has been reshaped by the cataclysm of Russian aggression and growing US-China hostilities. Macron, who came into office in the bloom of youth promising to turn France’s face resolutely toward the future, is doomed to finish out his term, of which four long, long years remain, as the ghost of a discredited past. Requiescat in pace.