President Macron recently invoked Article 49.3 of the French constitution, allowing him to bypass the normal legislative process. This measure is quite unpopular and might result in him getting voted out of power.

So what’s the Realpolitik reason for Macron to do this now? Does he or his allies gain something from such a drastic move? Or was this a genuine attempt to fix a broken system despite the political risks?

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    "allowing him to bypass the normal legislative process." Maybe one should add that article 49.3 of the French constitution is perfectly valid and applicable here. It's part of the legislative process so to speak. Unusual and unpopular it may be but still normal in the sense of allowed. Macron is acting within his rights there. Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 8:09
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    As far as I can tell the opposition (both socialist and right-populist) says the reforms are unnecessary, so the Qs as posed in the last para are primarily opinion-based. Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 8:10
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    Voting not to close - The President is pushing for this policy and so he must have obviously vocally and publicly advertised and advocated why it is necessary. Any real or hidden motivations behind it will also have been publicised by the opposition. Thus, there should be enough public information available to answer this question without much speculation. (Otherwise, this Q - politics.stackexchange.com/questions/77768/… - comes pretty close to answering this Q).
    – sfxedit
    Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 18:50
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    As a meta question is "realpolitik" not mostly concerned with international relations? Can the term be applied here, to domestic policies? Commented Mar 19, 2023 at 19:30
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    @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Yes, realpolitik can apply in domestic context. It simply describes prioritizing circumstantial factors over ideological factors when making policies. One could argue current Icelandic PM rose to power through some pretty impressive realpolitik manuver. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 3:53

2 Answers 2


Recommend this episode of The Daily (NYT) for summary: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/16/podcasts/the-daily/france-retirement-strikes-protests-macron.html

Realpolitik describes the act of engaging in foreign or domestic policy based primarily on circumstantial factors, as opposed to ideological factors.

At face value, the realpolitik case for Macron's pension reform appears to be defusing a fiscal time-bomb in France. The country has to balance its generous pension system and a population that is living longer, which necessarily adds strain on the country's finances.

This is not an issue unique to France. Most members of European Union had raised their retirement age due to the same demographic changes, in fact, France currently has one of the lowest retirement ages on the continent.

The government faces two undesirable choices. The first choice is to not address the issue and hand it down to the next government. The second choice is to address the issue and face intense political backlash. The choice ultimately comes down to individual people's subjective value and priority.

PS: To add the obvious. Macron is in his second-term with no possibility of re-election, which means he has fewer reasons to fear political backlash at this point.

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    What's the source for your “fiscal time-bomb” theory? The podcast mentions “all projections” in passing but that is simply not true. In particular, past reforms mean that the standard of living of pensioners is already set to decrease relative to the active population and absorb much of the demographic pressure (and France has a different demography than most European countries anyway).
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 23:17
  • @Relaxed Firstly, I think that's a cherry-picked quote. The full excerpt from the podcast is this: "... if there is no reform to the pension system - and there are various projections - but all of them pretty much made clear that, within a decade, the pension system would begin to pile up significant deficit". The guest does not talk in absolutist terms, he is describing a general trend. Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 2:31
  • @Relaxed Secondly, I don't see what the second sentence has to do with the first one. It could very well be the case that past pension reforms could decrease pensioner's living standard AND still be insufficient to balance the book. Numbers are ambivalent to pensioner's feelings. Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 2:38
  • @QuantumWalnut they could just raise taxes on the wealthy who dodge taxes. No need for it to be a time-bomb - unless Macron wants it to be Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 11:40
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    Not sure I see your point, what quote is cherry-picked and what difference does the bit in bold make? That's exactly what I am referring to: They are just not actually dealing with the core and parameters of the problem, just assume there is some looming deficit and move on to softer cultural considerations. It is therefore a poor summary of the issues and a very weak reference if you're trying to claim that there is some “fiscal time-bomb”.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Mar 25, 2023 at 15:22

This measure is quite unpopular and might result in him getting voted out of power.

So what’s the Realpolitik reason for Macron to do this now? Does he or his allies gain something from such a drastic move?

Two no-confidence votes on this Monday failed and Macron was not voted out of power. As president he also cannot easily be voted out of power, his government might have, but didn't. Also Macron cannot be re-elected as president next time anyway.

As it is, the pension age will be lifted by two years. The pension system in France works as in many other countries by a transfer between generations, i.e. the younger, working generation pays for the older, not working anymore generation. A lift in pension age therefore trivially means that there would be more people paying for fewer people receiving the payments, i.e. a relief for the young, working generation and an additional burden for the older soon to be retired generation.

Obviously Macron wanted to gain favors in the younger (and maybe more rich/tax paying) French population. If this really plays out and he gets more popular in that segment, remains to be seen. He himself said that the choice was between “decreasing pensions, raising taxes or letting our children and grandchildren carry the financial burden.” (Source)

Macron also campaigned on changes to the pension system in the past and with this measure made good on some of his promises. It wasn't a surprise move then.

Also, the French left may not be that strong anymore than it used to be in the past. For example, Jean-Luc Melenchon, the Left's presidential candidate, only came in fourth last presidential election.

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