the french malaise

Image: Skylar Kang


The demonstrations are not for the two years of additional social security contributions

The French streets scream. Progressive protests take hold of virtually all major cities and regions in the country. Nothing seems to dissolve the discomfort. No government retreat or concession produces any ebb in tension. Nothing, simply, nothing alters the generalized feeling of revolt, anguish and agony. All French hatreds converged in this contestation of the pension reform suggested by President Emmanuel Macron. The change from 62 to 64 the starting age was received as inadmissible. There is no argument that moves or convinces otherwise.

But, looking closely, the issue is not reform per se. There are very profound variables at play. The entirety of the political class has lost its historical and moral legitimacy. Nothing that comes from her receives a peaceful welcome. The times of diminishing expectations have passed to the times of inclement storms.

The third paragraph of Article 49 of the French Constitution, the famous “49.3”, allows the President of the Republic to adopt any bill without parliamentary deliberation. This device was devised by General Charles de Gaulle and his minister Michel Debré to install some rationalization of French parliamentarism which, under the French Fourth Republic, from 1946 to 1958, promoted permanent instabilities with the intermittence of obstructions and votes of no confidence. It is an authoritarian measure, yes, but, at the time, understood and recognized as legitimate and necessary for the imposition of the national interest over other interests.

The general had abdicated from public life in 1946 precisely because he anticipated this political anomie of the Fourth Republic installed after 1945. When he was summoned to power in 1958, his reflection was in the sense of expanding the levels of authority and autonomy of presidential action. In other words, make it clear that he's in charge.

Emmanuel Macron used the resource “49.3” to forcibly pass the current pension reform. The response from the streets came strong and immediately. There is no doubt that the instrument – ​​“49.3” – is legal. After all, it is recorded, black and white, in the Constitution. It is therefore, yes, legal. But it is no longer legit. It became politically immoral and anachronistic.

This agony of the French is not different from that of many peoples around the world swallowed up by the present world sluggishness. Social relegation, especially from the flattening of the purchasing power of all social segments in virtually all countries on the planet, has been an irremediable fact since the 2008 financial crisis. intercurrence of the Ukrainian conflict makes all this even more acute.

Among the French, the after the 2008 financial crisis, the 2009-2011 euro crisis and the European Brexit from 2012 produced the tireless movement of the yellow vests, “yellow vests”. In the first moments of Emmanuel Macron's first presidency, starting in May 2017, these losers of globalization flooded, continuously, the streets of the country's main cities.

The French capital was taken and blockaded for weekends on end. Everything was seen, heard and felt and no way out was found. The 2020-2021 pandemic biennium cooled the movement and gave the government a sigh. But the temptation to reform French social security revived all the uneasiness of the past. And, as before, now, there is no way out.

This is clearly a societal issue. But these societal issues, in this time of successive crises – financial, European, health and world, arising from the Ukrainian conflict –, turned into an endless war for the rehabilitation of a type of social comfort that, perhaps, will never again exist.

On the nights of June 2013 in Brazil it was said that "it wasn't for the twenty cents". The French, now, in these endless days and nights of March 2023, seem to say, emphatically, that "it's not for the extra two years of social security contributions".

The problem is bigger. Hatreds are manifold. The malaise, it seems, is insurmountable. Et alors, quoi faire? (And now, what to do?). This is the question that, deep down, the French malaise raises and everyone, French and non-French, want to see answered. With no answers, only the screams remain.

*Daniel Afonso da Silva Professor of History at the Federal University of Grande Dourados. author of Far beyond Blue Eyes and other writings on contemporary international relations (APGIQ).

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