Macron and Borne: profiles in courage

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, and prime minister, Elizabeth Borne, are showing incredible political courage in promoting an indispensable reform of the pension system. The international press (with the exception of one recent reasonable Washington Post editorial) has largely taken the side of the strikers, explaining sententiously that the proper answer would be to tax companies more (as to the efficiency of that approach, here is an old but still valid example, from a left-wing paper). The unions have vowed, in the words of one of their leaders, to “bring the country to its knees” and seem intent on reaching this goal literally. (It may be useful  to point out that unions in France are not what the term suggests. In other countries a union represents the workers at a company or administration. In France every organization has several unions, usually 4 or 5, competing for, typically, a small minority of the workers, but with a role enshrined in the constitution. They are really state-supported political organizations, of various political hues, several of them openly hostile to employers and to capitalism. Interesting approach.)

The reform of the pension system was part of Macron’s electoral program and has been amended repeatedly to take into account the special characteristics of manual or otherwise difficult worth. Months of attempted negotiations took place with those union representatives who were willing to talk. The extreme left and extreme right were united to defeat the reform and at the last minute, after innumerable debates in Parliament which had resulted in a majority-backed solution, intimated enough moderate-right deputies to force the government to use a special constitutional mechanism (“article 49-3”) to ram it through. Who knows how many disruptions of basic services the country will have to endure in the coming months as saboteurs of various kinds try to make good on their promise to prevent the country from functioning. The attitude of the international bien-pensant press, who fans the flames (as they did with the Gilets Jaunes protests 5 years ago),  while castigating the January 6 Washington rioters, who are of the same ilk, is unconscionable.

The entire political class knows that a reform is indispensable, and has been delayed far too long, out of the cowardice of previous governments. Macron’s and Borne’s goal is simple: to preserve France’s pension system (the very system that the opponents deceitfully accuse them of destroying), based on solidarity between generations, workers paying for retirees, as opposed to a capitalization-based system with its dependence on the ups and downs of the stock market. Thanks in particular to a generous health service, people live ever longer; the new plan makes them work a couple of years more to help ensure the sustainability of the approach. Macron is in his second, non-renewable term and has decided that he would not leave office without having carried out this part of his duty. Borne, an outstanding manager with a distinguished record, has taken the risk of sacrificing her political career by bringing the reform through. (In the Fifth Republic’s mixed presidential system, the conventional wisdom is that the prime minister is the president’s “fuse”, an expendable resource for implementing difficult tasks. Cynical and tough, but a direct consequence of the constitution designed by De Gaulle and his deputy Debré 60 years ago.)

In the meantime, Macron and Borne are showing Europe and the world what true dedication and leadership mean.

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