“He who does not wish to speak of capitalism should remain forever silent about Nazism” –I quoted West Germany’s Max Horkheimer just few months ago discussing the disastrous, cynical and absolutely unnecessary attempts towards the equation of communism with Nazism, of fascism and anti-fascism.
Right than – in that text – I also borrowed from yet another Frankfurter, Herbert Marcuse on the self-entrapment of Western society. Back in 1960s, it was him labelling as “repressive tolerance” if someone in future ever considers a dangerous and a historical equitation between Nazism and anything else, least with Communism. Regrettably enough, that future of de-evolution started pouring in by 1990s – culminating with the current Covid-19 iron fist.
Umberto Eco – in his ur-fascism of 1995 – of course, didn’t see the entire world arrested on one pathogen, one narrative about it, one solution mandated for all, along with suppression of any debate about it. Back then in mid-1990’s, Eco didn’t visualise it but he well sensed where it might but should never go: Trivialisation of our important contents will brutally hit us back. (Immunisation of herd – as tirelessly agitated via media, inevitable ends up in herd loyalty: From pandemia to plundermia. 1930s are powerful reminder: From Reichstags Fire to Kristallnacht and on, and on, and on.)
Here we are today; 75 years after the glorious Victory Day, fighting (again) invisible enemy within. Therefore, the antifascist fundaments of modern Europe are today relevant more than ever. This is not our (political) choice, it is the only way to survive. Surely, any equitation attempt is a beginning of infection. And immuno-fascism, be it of 1930’s or of 2020’s always starts with silence, which is both an acceptance and accomplice. In vain a self-comforting excuse; Wir wussten nicht (it was others, not us).
To prevent it, revisiting the most relevant chapters of our near history is worth of doing:
No llores porque ya se terminó, sonríe porque sucedió
In fact, the 1930s were full of public admirations of and frequent official visits to an Austrian-born Hitler. It was not only reserved for the British royal family (e.g. Edward VIII), but for many more prominent from both sides of the Atlantic (e.g. Henry Ford). By 1938 in Munich, this ‘spirit of Locarno’ has been confirmed in practice when French President Daladier and British PM Chamberlain (Atlantic Europe) jointly paid a visit to Germany and gave concessions – practically a free hand – to Hitler and Mussolini (Central Europe) on gains in Eastern Europe (Istria, Czechoslovakia and beyond). Neither Atlantic Europe objected to the pre-Munich solidification of Central Europe: Hitler–Mussolini pact and absorption of Austria, following a massive domestic Austrian support to Nazism of its well-educated and well-informed 719,000 members of the Nazi party (nearly a third of a that-time total Austrian electorate), as well as a huge ring of sympathizers. In a referendum organised by the Austro-Nazis a month after the Anschluss, 99.7% of Austrians voted ‘Yes’ to annexation.
By brokering the Ribbentrop-Molotov non-aggression deal between Berlin and Moscow, but only a year after the Munich-shame – in 1939 (incl. the stipulations on Finland, Baltic states and Poland), Stalin desperately tried to preempt the imminent. That was a horror of an uncontrolled expansion of Central onto Eastern Europe and closer to Russia – something already largely blessed and encouraged by Atlantic Europe.
This chapter would be definitely one of the possible spots for a thorough examination, if we only wish to diligently elaborate why Atlantic and Scandinavian Europe scored so much of Nazi-collaboration while Eastern and Russophone Europe opposed and fiercely resisted.
For some 300 years, Russia and the Ottomans – like no other European belligerents – have fought series of bitter wars over the control of the Black Sea plateau and Caucasus – sectors, which both sides (especially the Ottomans) have considered as geopolitically pivotal for their posture. Still, neither party has ever progressed at the battlefield as to seriously jeopardize the existence of the other. However, Russia has experienced such moves several times from within Europe. Three of them were critical for the very survival of Russia, and the forth was rather instructive: the Napoleonic wars, Hitler’s Drangnach Osten, the so-called ‘contra-revolutionary’ intervention, and finally the brief but deeply humiliating war with Poland (1919-21).
In absence of acceptance, quest for the strategic depth
Small wonder, that in 1945, when Russians– suffering over 20 millions of mostly civilian casualties (practically, an extermination of the entire population in many parts of the western Soviet Union), and by far the heaviest continental burden of the war against Nazism – arrived on wings of their tanks and ideology to Central Europe, they decided to stay. Extending their strategic depth westwards–southwestwards, and fortifying their presence in the heart of Europe, was morally an occupation. Still, it was geopolitically the single option left, which Stalin as a ruthless person but an excellent geo-strategist perfectly understood.
Just a quick look at the geographic map of Europe would show that the low-laying areas of western Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe are practically non-fortifiable and indefensible. Their topography exposes the metropolitan area and city of Moscow to an extreme vulnerability. So, the geostrategic dictatum is that in absence of any deep canyon, serious ridge or mountain chain, the only protection is either a huge standing army (expensive and badly needed in other corners of this vast country) and/or an extension of the strategic depth.
Indeed, if we truly want to elaborate on why Atlantic and Scandinavian Europe bred so much obedience and Nazi-collaboration (with Central Europe) and largely passively stood by, while Eastern and Russophone Europe (solely) fiercely resisted and fought, we should advisably examine the financial, moral, demographic and politico-military cost-benefit ratio of the WWII, too. The subsequent, sudden and lasting Cold War era has prevented any comprehensive scientific consensus. The unbiased, de-ideologized and objective view on the WWII was systematically discouraged. Soviets consistently equated Nazism and imperialism while the US, for its part, equated fascism and communism. Until this very day, we do not have a full accord on causes and consequences of events in years before, during and after the WWII. Therefore the paradox – the holocaust denial is a criminal offense, but all other important things surrounding Nazism and its principal European victims; Slavs and their states, are tentative and negotiable, elastic and eligible for a periodic political re-engineering.
The same applies to the comparative analysis of the economic performance of East and West. E.g. was the much-celebrated Truman’s Marshall aid to the post-WWII western Europe, originally meant to be the US reimbursement to the Soviets for the enormous burden they took throughout the WWII – the financial assistance that was repeatedly promised by Roosevelt to Stalin, but never delivered past his death in spring 1945? Saturated by the Nazi Germany beyond comprehension, the Soviet Union was rebuilding alone itself and Eastern Europe, while the moderately damaged Western Europe got – including Germany – a massive, ideologically conditioned, financial help.
In a nutshell; if we disaggregate Europe into its compounding historical components, it is safe to say the following: The very epilogue of both WWs in Europe was a defeat of the Central (status quo challenger) against Atlantic Europe (status quo defender). All this with the relatively absent, neutral Scandinavian Europe, of Eastern Europe being more an object than a subject of these mega-confrontations, and finally with a variable success of Russophone Europe.
Finally, back to Franco-German post-WWII re-rapprochement.
Obviously, that was far more than just a story about the two countries signing d’accord. It truly marked a final decisive reconciliation of two Europes, the Atlantic and Central one. The status quo Europe has won on the continent but has soon lost its overseas colonies. Once realizing it, the road for ‘unification’ of the equally weakened protagonists in a close proximity was wide open. This is the full meaning of the 1961Elysée.
 Much quoted line of Gabriel García Márquez; from Spanish: ‘Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened’.
 In his luminary piece, Rolf Soderlind states: “…unlike other countries occupied by the Nazis in the ensuing WWII, Austria embraced the March 12, 1938 invasion with an enthusiasm that surprised the Germans and which still affects the country. The role as victim-turned-accomplice in Hitler’s crimes against humanity was a taboo for decades after the war in Austria… After all, Hitler was born in Austria, which historians say was the cradle of Nazism at the start of the century. Hitler merely took the ideas with him to Munich and, later, Berlin.” No wonder that a disproportionately high number of Austrians, including war criminals such as (Adolf) Eichmann and (Ernst) Kaltenbrunner, took active part in the systematic exterminations of Slavic peoples, Jews, Romas and other racially or politically ‘impure’ segments, manly from the Europe’s East. “Austrian Nazis, quickly proving to be even more brutal than their ruthless German masters, hit the streets after the invasion to intimidate, beat up and rob mainly Jews but also to settle the account with Social Democrats and Communists — their political opponents.” – describes Soderlind. “This was not on Hitler’s orders. It was a spontaneous pogrom. It was popular among Austrians to go after the Jews,” says Gerhard Botz, professor of contemporary history at the University of Vienna. On the account, American journalist Shirer reported: “For the first few weeks the behaviour of the Vienna Nazis was worse than anything I had seen in Germany,” and concludes: “there was an orgy of sadism.” A day after, already by March 13, 1938, Jews and other racial or political ‘inappropriates’ were forced to scrub the pavements and clean the gutters of the Austrian capital, the elegant cafe society that was world-wide admired as a stage for classical music, wise humanity and a shining example of Baroque architecture. “As they worked on their hands and knees with jeering storm troopers standing over them, crowds gathered to taunt them,” Shirer wrote. While the Nazi Party was banned in post-war Austria, most veteran Nazis were highly educated people who found a new career in politics and government. Professor Wolfgang Neugebauer says: “They could not remove the entire leadership, because then the state would no longer be able to function. Even in the first government of Social Democratic Chancellor Bruno Kreisky in 1970s, four ministers were former Nazis… Chancellor Franz Vranitzky in a speech to parliament in 1991 became the first Austrian leader to admit that his country was a servant of Nazism.” Interestingly, German and Austrian leaders apologized to Israel (or generally to Jews) repeatedly, but not really to the peoples of Eastern Europe who were by far the largest Nazi victim. Illuminating the origins of wealth of Central Europe, Neugebauer admits: ”It was not until 1995 (time when all three Slavic multinational states have undergone the dissolution, and disappeared from the map, rem. aut.) that Austria started paying compensation to surviving victims of Austrian Nazi aggression.” In the same fashion, Germany – considered as the Europe’s economic miracle – in essence an overbearing Mitteleuropear that dragged world into the two devastating world wars, is a serial defaulter which received debt relief four times in the 20th century (1924, 1929, 1932 and 1953). E.g. by the letter of London Agreement on German External Debts (Londoner Schuldenabkommen) over 60% of German reparations for the colossal atrocities committed in both WW were forgiven (or generously reprogramed) by their former European victims.
 It should be kept in mind that for the very objective of lebensraum policy (character and size of space needed for Germanophones to unhindered, live and prosper), the Jews, Roma and behavioristic minorities were the non-territorial obstacle. However, Slavs and their respective Slavic states in Eastern Europe were the prime territorial target of Hitler-led Central Europe’s ‘final solution’. Therefore, no wonder why so much fifth column crop among Slavs. For the speeding and smoothening of the lebensraum objective, Quisling was needed as PM in Norway, but Slavic quisling-elites were cattled in each and every of that time major Slavic states – useful idiots in Poland, in Ukraine, in Czechoslovakia, in Yugoslavia, in Bulgaria, etc.).
 One of the possible reasons was a fact that the Atlanstist nobility, wealth-clans and dynasties were mingled and intermarried with those same from Central and Scandinavian Europe. That was only sporadic in case of Eastern Europe, and totally absent in case of Russophone Europe.
 The 6-year-long insurgencies was largely financed and inspired by Western Europe as an overt ‘regime change’ intervention. It came at the time of the young Bolshevik Russia, and it subsequently saturated the country, bringing the unbearable levels of starvation and hunger up to cases of cannibalism. It took away 5 million mostly civilian lives, and eventually set the stage for a ‘red terror’.
 The same applies to the Atlantic (Anglo-French and American) lasting occupation of Central Europe, which along with the Soviet one was the only guaranty for the full and decisive de-Nazification of the core sectors of continental Europe.
 With the politico-military settlement of the Teheran and Yalta Conference (1943), and finally by the accord of the Potsdam Conference (1945), the US, UK and the SU unanimously agreed to reduce the size of Germany by 25% (comparable to its size of 1937), to recreate Austria, and to divide both of them on four occupation zones. The European sections of the Soviet borders were extended westwards (as far as to Kaliningrad), and Poland was compensated by territorial gains in former Eastern Prussia/Germany. The Americans and Britons in Potsdam unanimously confirmed the pre-WWII inclusion of the three Baltic republics into the Soviet Union, too. Practically, Russians managed to eliminate Germany from Eastern Europe (and of its access to central and eastern portions of Baltic, too), and to place it closer to the Atlantic Europe’s proper.
 Sadly enough, most of the popular Atlantist literature or movies elaborating on topics of the WWII are biased and misleading on the role of the Red Army,and are generally disrespectful towards the enormous suffering of the Soviet and Yugoslav peoples at that time.
 Comparing and contrasting the economic performance of East and West, many western scholars in 1950s and 1960s argued that the Soviet socio-economic model is superior to that of its western archrival. The superpower’s space-race was usually the most quoted argument for this claim. Indeed, some dozens of Soviet space-race victories were so magnificent that it was impossible to hide them, as the ideological dictum would suggested. E.g. the first orbiting satellite (Sputnik 1, 1957); the first animal, the first man, and the first women in orbit (Laika 1957, Gagarin 1961, Tereshkova 1963); the first over-24 hours stay in space (Titov, 1961); first images of the dark side of moon (1959); the first man-made device to enter the atmosphere of another planet, and to achieve the soft landing on Venus and images sent from there (Venera 4, 1967; Venera 7, 1970); the first space-walk (Leonov,1965); the first space station (Salyut, 1971); the first probe to ever land on Mars (Mars 3, 1971); the first permanently manned space station including the longest stays in space (Mir, 1989-99), etc.
Europe’s relations with Africa and Asia are on the brink of collapse, and Russia is benefiting
More than one year since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the world remains caught in the middle. Against a backdrop of high energy and food prices, ravaging inflation, social unrest and fears of another global recession, Western and Russian blocs are once again vying for support from nations of the developing world.
Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz, Sergei Lavrov, Qin Gang, and Anthony Blinken are just some of the names that have made high-profile visits to Africa in the last 12 months. All have largely focused on cooperation and trade, yet each has done so with a discourse reflecting a kind of Cold War reboot, with Ukraine as one of its most prominent symptoms.
Each in their own way, armed with their respective propaganda, these superpowers wish for nations of Africa and Asia to pick a side. Yet, unlike the previous century, those nations cannot so easily be made to choose, nor should they have to. Russia understands this. The West does not.
It’s no secret that Africa has been reluctant to overtly condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, or to participate in Western efforts to sanction and isolate the warring country. Instead, African and Asian nations have continued to welcome these longstanding partners with open arms – widely condemning the war, but not Russia.
In Malawi, for instance, Russia’s deliveries of tens of thousands of tonnes of fertiliser amidst global shortages are seen as a gift from heaven by struggling farmers. Malawi’s minister of agriculture shook hands with the Russian ambassador, describing Russia gratefully as “a true friend”. Russia’s announced plans to send 260,000 tonnes of fertiliser to countries across Africa, is certain to spread similar sentiments.
In my country Congo-Brazzaville, the government signed five major cooperation agreements with Russia in the midst of its war with Ukraine, including for the construction of a new oil pipeline and to enhance military cooperation.
This charm offensive, prominently led by Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who has visited South Africa, Eswatini, Angola, Eritrea, Mali, Sudan and Mauritania just since January, is already nourishing pro-Russian sentiment throughout the continent, and stands in sharp contrast to the damp squib that was President Emmanuel Macron’s recent African adventure.
In his press conference with Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President, Felix Tshisekedi, in what was perhaps the most deaf-tone faux pas of his entire trip, President Macron was repeatedly asked to condemn Rwanda’s support for M23 rebels causing havoc in eastern DRC – a situation that closely resembles Russia’s covert support for Donbass separatists in recent years. For all intents and purposes, he failed to do so.
Instead, when a French journalist quizzed him on former Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s disparaging mention of an “African-style compromise” in relation to President Tshisekedi election in 2019, Macron proceeded to lecture the Congolese President on freedom of the press – much to the disbelief of those witnessing the scene.
Despite President Macron’s effusive rhetoric about ‘new relationships’ and ‘new starts’, his outburst was yet another bitter reminder of Europe’s longstanding paternalistic and dissonant attitude towards the continent. This is the same attitude whereby decades of European political and military influence on the continent have failed to generate meaningful progress when they did not actively undermine those efforts. Africans are wise to this and refuse to take it anymore, as evidenced by the growth in anti-French sentiment in West Africa. Russia, China and others, though far from being without reproach, are merely seizing the presented opportunities.
Just as the share of EU aid going to Africa has declined significantly, similar problems are afoot with Europe’s relations in Asia. Its share of Southeast Asian merchandise trade, excluding China, fell by over a third over the last two decades. Western Europe was the destination for less than a tenth of Malaysian, Singaporean, South Korean and Taiwanese exports in 2021. Russia is again moving fast to fill the gap, adopting China as its main trading partner, and consistently exporting oil and gas to eager Asian buyers, rather than to the West. When Russia suspended its double taxation treaties with “unfriendly” countries around the world in mid-March, most Southeast Asian countries were exempted from this measure.
Moreover, Russia has over the last decade become the largest arms supplier to the region, recently running joint naval exercises with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia have all rejected imposing sanctions on Moscow, whilst Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia to improve agricultural trade earlier this year.
One cannot fault these nations for engaging in partnerships and cooperation with international partners, in the interest of addressing their most urgent societal priorities. Nor can one fault African and Asian countries for taking with a pinch of salt a discourse on international values and change, when this supposed change stems not from recognition of current flaws, but from the impositions of emergent global trends.
What lessons can be given about territorial integrity and justice, when the events of 2011 in Libya, as well as their enduring consequences, remain traumatically fresh in African minds, or when the posture of African countries relative to the war in Ukraine is almost identical to that of Europe relative to the conflict in the eastern provinces of the DRC?
What lessons should be drawn from European courts proceeding to the seizure of Malaysian assets and properties worth $15 billion – including lucrative oil and gas assets – based on a questionable arbitration authorised by a Spanish arbitrator facing criminal prosecution from the Spanish authorities? And who will really benefit, given that this claim on sovereign territories, derived from a mid-nineteenth agreement between a long-vanished Sultanate and a colonial-era British company, is funded by unknown third-party investors?
The willingness of European courts to confiscate the resources and assets of a sovereign Asian nation on such flimsy grounds is not lost on observers in Africa and across the developing world.
Whatever the answer to these questions may be, it is evident that relations between the old and new worlds will continue to strain as long as underlying assumptions and beliefs do not evolve. Specifically, change is needed in those attitudes that continue to consider developing nations as oblivious to the many contradictions of rhetoric and practice that characterise the world as we know it – whether in terms of: a system of aid and trade that nourishes the imbalances and ills it purports to address; a discourse on international law and values that crumbles in the face of past transgressions and current drives for reforms; or even negotiations on climate finance in which urgency stops when economic interests begin.
The Western world can only reverse this trajectory by seeking out a genuinely new footing in its relations with the countries of Africa and Asia – challenging its own assumptions and understandings about what a respectful partnership between equally legitimate nations truly means. This is not about paying lip-service to ideals struggling to remain convincing, nor is it about entirely conceding these ideals on the altar of economic pragmatism.
Rather this means accepting a due share of responsibility for the current state of affairs, understanding expectations for the future, being willing to make real concessions, and aligning discourse with dollars and deeds. In doing so, the Western world will reassure those of us that continue to believe in the promises of the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that these were not merely pretences to maintain hegemony in the face of existential threats, but rather an enduring vision for a better world that remains worth fighting for today.
A Muscular U.S. Foreign Policy and Changing Alliances
Imagine a country rich in fossil fuels and another nearby that is Europe’s premier industrial power in dire need of those resources — is that a match made in heaven?
Not according to Joe Biden who quashed it as if it was a match made in hell. Biden was so much against any such rapprochement that to end all prospects of a deal, he ordered the bombing of the Nord Stream pipelines. Two out of four lines were severely damaged, about 50 meters of them and Russia chose not to conduct repairs. Instead,it is pumping its gas up through Turkey.
So far, Russia has not responded to this act of war but a leader can not afford to lose face domestically or internationally, and one may not be surprised if an American facility or ship suffers an adverse event in the future.
In the meantime, Russia has become fast friends with China — the latter having its own bone to pick with Biden. China, a growing industrial giant, has almost insatiable energy needs and Russia stands ready to supply them. An informal deal has been agreed upon with a formal signing ceremony on March 20, 2023.
So who won this fracas? Russia gets to export its gas anyway and China, already generating the world’s highest GDP on a purchasing-power-parity basis, has guaranteed itself an energy source.
Of course there is Ukraine where Biden (like the US in Vietnam) is ready to fight to the last Ukrainian. Despite a valiant resistance, they are not winning, for Russia continues to solidify its hold on Ukraine’s east, most recently by taking Soledar and capturing parts of the transport hub Bakhmut itself.
And then there is Saudi Arabia: hitherto a staunch U.S. ally, it is now extending a hand of friendship to Iran, which its previous king used to call the snake in the Middle East. But Saudi Arabia is keenly aware of the vassal-like manner in which the U.S. has treated Germany, its ally with the largest economy in Europe, over its desire to buy cheap gas from Russia. The deal was nixed and observers estimate it cost Germany a couple of points of GDP growth. Such a loss in the U.S. would translate to almost zero growth.
India used to be a neutral country between the great powers. In fact, its first leader after independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a leading figure in the non-aligned movement. It is now being tugged towards the US.
The latest tug is ICET or the initiative on Critical and Emerging Technologies. Its purpose is to find ways to engage through “innovation bridges” over the key areas of focus. This coordination between the two countries is to cover industry, academia and government.
On the other hand, India’s arch rival Pakistan used to be in the US orbit for decades. Now it is virtually a Chinese client state even though for a time, particularly during the Afghan war, it was a source of much help for the US.
Such are the vagaries of alignments in a multi-polar world, particularly when under pressure from major powers.
Adoption of the controversial pension reform bill in France
On Thursday, 16th March 2023, the senate adopted the pension reform bill with 193 senators voting for the project and 114 senators voting against it. A few hours later, after many meetings of key figures of the government and the Renaissance party –the governing party – , it was decided that the National Assembly was not going to vote for the bill but rather the government would use the famous 49.3, an article of the 1958 constitution which allows the prime minister to have a bill adopted into law without a vote. The Senate and the National Assembly – through a joint committee – had agreed on a compromise text of the bill the day before the crucial vote in the Parliament. The project was so important to President Macron that he threatened to dissolve the National Assembly if the project did not go through. Some analysts saw this threat as way of inducing members of the National Assembly to adopt the project rather than put into jeopardy their political careers. Politicians like Christian Estrosi, mayor of Nice, a staunch republican, claims members of the National Assembly had to vote the bill because they should be convinced that it is the best thing to do right now for a sustainable pension system in France.
When President Macron was elected in 2017, he pledged to change the pension system in France for he believed that it was unjust and that it would be difficult to sponsor it in the years to come since more people will be going into retirement. It is believed that those aged 65 will be more than the under 20 come the year 2030. Macron did not carry out the reform in his first term in office after meeting with different resistance like the one of the Gilets Jaunes; he probably feared it may cost him the second term. Once the first term was over, he was most probably determined to carry on simply because he is not scared to lose, his second term being the last one. The pension reform has been heavily contested, with polls in February 2023 suggesting that 65% of the French people are against it.
The reform moves the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. The change will be carried out progressively with 3 months added each year to make it two years in total in 2030. To have fully contributed to the retirement insurance one will have worked 43 years. People working in relatively hard industries like the police, firefighters, garbage collection will still be able to retire early. However, those who entered the career late like those who had long studies will have to work until 67 years. Disabled people could still go on retirement at the age of 55 while those who have suffered disability along the way could retire at the age of 60.
With the new bill having become a law, those who will have a complete career (43 years) will not receive less than 85% of minimum wage (i.e. 1200 Euros gross salary). Furthermore, the government believes it will be able to save 17.7 billion Euros by 2030 with the new pension system. According to the government, increasing the retirement age was the fairer way than increasing taxes especially that people are believed to live longer than in the past.
The left parties (La France Insoumise LFI, Les Socialistes, Europe Ecologie-les Verts) have made it difficult for the bill discussion especially in the National Assembly by proposing thousands of amendments to delay the voting process and even derail it. This is probably why the government feared to lose the vote and decided to invoke 49.3. The government doesn’t have the outright majority and has had to rely on the right party (les Républicains LR) to have the reform bill voted in the Senate but some of Renaissance members of the National Assembly were reluctant to vote for the bill and some LR members had said they would abstain, leaving the ruling party with no other choice than to use 49.3. The Prime Minister suggested that “the reform is necessary” and she was taking responsibility by invoking 49.3.
The reform bill was so unpopular that there have been protests for months spearheaded by the Union of workers who mobilized workers across many industries (i.e. energy, transport) and public institutions (e.g. education). Millions of people have been on the street, a reminiscence of 1968, when students spearheaded strikes in which 10 million of people took to the street to make request which resulted, inter alia, in the 35% increase of minimum wage. The objective of protestors against pension reform bill had been to make the government withdraw the entire project because they believe it is unjust to ask people to work two years more, considering that their career is long enough. President Macron seemed not interested to receive the Unions and had no intention to withdraw the project.
As a result of strikes, the city of Paris and some other cities in France have seen the bins fill up along the streets and residents are said to hold their noses as they pass by. For some this is not the image to show to the world for a city that is hosting Olympic games in 2024 let alone for health reasons but for others this is the price to pay for the actions of a government that does not hid the voices of the people. Transport on the road as well as in the air has been heavily disrupted. Those who don’t participate in strikes are generally said to support the actions of the protesters. However, it is unclear if they will keep supporting them if the movement lasts long.
Using 49.3 always comes with the risk that the opposition would present a censure motion, in which the government itself runs the risk of being forced to resign and the text of the bill being rejected if the censure motion is adopted. Before the Prime Minister announced that the government had chosen to use 49.3 to adopt the pension reform bill, she was not allowed to speak for a few minutes. Ivan Rioufol, a journalist at CNews believes that this moment is not just a big moment for the 5th Republic but also a historical moment. For now, the government has triumphed and one of the most contested reforms of French modern politics has become a law– at least if the censure motion does not bring down the government and along with it, the newly-adopted law.
Nonetheless, despite the bill being adopted into law by the Senate and through 49.3, unions have vowed to keep protesting until the law is suspended. In a recent BFMTV poll, 62% French people would want the strikes to continue if the bill passes. Now that it has passed, it is not clear whether the resistance will make the government change anything. Neither is it clear whether the movement itself will be able to resist long since the longer workers strike the more money they lose from the salary. With the inflation and conditions of life that have been hard due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine it will be hard to sustain the strikes. What is clear is that the repercussions of this reform will linger on for many years to come. One anonymous political scientist even claimed that this could open the narrow door to the extreme right to come into power.
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