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Macron’s denial of democracy

The French president has used authoritarian methods to force through his unpopular reforms.

Frank Furedi

Frank Furedi

Topics Politics World

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On Thursday, French president Emmanuel Macron decided to use special legislative powers to bypass parliament and directly impose his extremely unpopular pension reforms on French society.

Up until this week, Macron and his prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, had been desperately trying to persuade enough MPs to support their pension-reform programme to get it through parliament. But to no avail. Like a majority of French citizens, French MPs broadly oppose the plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. So to avoid a defeat in parliament, Macron invoked a controversial constitutional tool – Article 49.3 – to circumvent legal and democratic conventions and rule directly.

Unsurprisingly, Macron’s use of this ‘legislative nuclear weapon’ has provoked chaotic scenes in parliament and spontaneous demonstrations on the streets of Paris. Opponents of Macron have since warned that France faces ‘democratic breakdown’. By invoking Article 49.3, Macron has not only prevented members of the French parliament from using their votes, he has also thwarted the will of the public. As Charles de Courson, a longtime independent parliamentarian, explained, Macron’s supporters ‘are not just a minority in the National Assembly, they are a minority in the whole country’.

Yet while French citizens may have been outraged by Macron’s legislative coup, his pals in the European Union have barely raised an eyebrow. This is hardly a surprise. Eurocrats see Macron, an articulate, accomplished technocrat, as one of their own. Perhaps more than any other EU leader, Macron personifies the technocratic project of the EU, and its attempt to depoliticise public life.

The EU’s indifference to Macron’s legislative coup exposes its hypocrisy over the rule of law and democracy. Over the past two decades, Brussels has turned ‘the rule of law’ into its sacred cause. It has constantly charged other EU member states of violating the rule of law and democracy when their governments do things Brussels does not approve of.

Yet when Macron overrides all democratic conventions to impose his government’s will on the French populace, it says nothing. Can you imagine its response if, say, the governments of Hungary or Poland had resorted to their equivalent of Article 49.3 to push through a similarly unpopular legislative programme? Brussels would have denounced them as authoritarian violators of democracy and no doubt the rule of law, too.

It is important to note that Macron himself is a consummate practitioner of this hypocrisy. In a speech in January last year, he referenced Hungary and Poland and said that Europe was becoming aware that ‘democracy and the rule of law can be made fragile’. He warned that the ‘end of the rule of law is the beginning of authoritarianism’.

Given the events in Paris this week, it seems the suspension of legal democratic conventions is the ‘beginning of authoritarianism’ only in places like Poland and Hungary. The double standards here are shocking. The behaviour of Macron and his EU cronies should worry anyone who takes democratic norms seriously.

Macron’s use of the ‘nuclear legislative option’ has at least provided the people of Europe with another important lesson about the EU elites’ indifference to democracy. It is now up to the people of France to challenge and strike out against Macron’s authoritarian behaviour.

Frank Furedi is the executive director of the think-tank, MCC-Brussels.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics World

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