The foreign press’s view of the 49.3 vote on pensions reform, described as a “sledgehammer reform,” a “weakened and isolated” president, and a “blocked Republic?”

The decision to pass the pension reform without a vote on the text is making headlines in major British, Spanish, German, Belgian, Italian and American newspapers. Their reading of the French situation is at least pessimistic.

“64 is not enough”: The sign held up by the rebellious MPs in the hemicycle was featured on the front page of many foreign newspapers

on Friday, March 17th, from the American New York Times to the Spanish El País and the British Daily Telegraph and Belgian newspaper Le Soir. The latter headlined it as “a power play” in reference to the use of Article 49.3 of the Constitution to pass the pension reform without a vote in the National Assembly.

The Guardian across the Channel is referring to a “power play” while Le Temps de Geneve speaks bluntly of the “nuclear button of Article 49.3”. According to the Swiss newspaper, “democratic violence is tolerated in budgetary texts, but not on such a sensitive and important issue for the French as pension reform.” The Tageszeitung, for its part, calls it a “reform imposed with a club”. The German newspaper wonders why in France “a word from the executive rather than a vote in proper form in Parliament is enough to pass, legally, a bill that the population clearly rejects”.

Foreign press is also pointing to the risk of an outbreak. In Italy, La Repubblica published on its front page a photo of protesters gathered Thursday night at Place de la Concorde in Paris with smoke bombs and a twilight atmosphere. The German newspaper Die Zeit, meanwhile, is worried about a protest that threatens to become radicalized, noting that in some municipalities power plant employees have cut off power.

Emmanuel Macron has never seemed so weak.

The French President is widely seen as the responsible party for this crisis. According to the Daily Telegraph, he “has never appeared so weak”. His opponents, the newspaper continues, have often caricatured him as an elitist ‘President of the Rich’, but by denying democracy he is only giving them ammunition. The danger for him is not resignation, but impotence for the rest of his term.
Emmanuel Macron, first responsible and first victim of this sequence, judges foreign editorialists. A “weakened and isolated” President according to the New York Times, a “very affected” Head of State according to La Vanguardia from Spain. While El País attempts a comparison: “Emmanuel Macron, always questioned for his haughty and disconnected character from the street, has entered into the same phase as his predecessors Alain Juppé in 1995 and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010 when they also reformed pensions”.


Foreign press fear long-term consequences as evidenced by the title chosen by Die Zeit: “The Blocked Republic”. According to the German daily, “this reform will weigh heavily on the country, knowing that there are reforms from which a government never recovers”. The use of 49.3 “is the symbol of a deep institutional crisis”, El Pais agrees. La Libre Belgique considers the “price to pay for this constitutional stratagem” to be “considerable”. Emmanuel Macron “will not appease an already unleashed National Assembly and will give water to the mill of populists,” predicts the Spanish newspaper.