After nearly three months of demonstrations against the plan, the Constitutional Council approved the major amendment in the legislation to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Six elements that were not deemed essential to the reform’s core were rejected by the court, and the left’s desire for a referendum on a different pension law that would maintain the retirement age at 62 was also rejected.
But the manner in which the legislation has been passed in the face of opposition from two out of three voters, trade unions and a majority of deputies in the National Assembly has dismayed even previously sympathetic observers.
Pierre Rosanvallon, a highly respected sociologist and historian, issued a striking warning in early April that Macron needed to restore the legitimacy of his presidential office in the eyes of voters.
“Without this, the time of revolutions could come back, or else there will be an accumulation of toxic disaffection which will open the way for far-right populism,” the center-left thinker told Liberation newspaper.
Political historian Jean Garrigues also wrote that it was “all of our institutional foundations, all of our political figures which are discredited” by the way the reform had been passed.
“The link between our citizens and their national representatives has been stretched further in this crisis, as it was during the Yellow Vests,” Garrigues wrote in Le Monde newspaper, referring to fierce anti-Macron protests in 2018.
Criticism has focused in particular on how the president’s minority government rammed the legislation through parliament on March 16 without a vote.
The move legal but barely democratic came after other constitutional measures were used to keep parliamentary debate to a minimum, deepening the sense of outrage felt by protesters who have taken to the streets almost every week since January.
The sometimes violent protests peaked at 1.28 million people on March 7, according to official statistics, the biggest in a generation.
“This protest movement will leave a mark in the history our country, through its size and the new people who have joined in,” the leader of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, told reporters as he marched for the 12th time since January on Thursday.
He repeated that the country faced a “democratic crisis.”
The talk of crisis and revolution comes amid gathering evidence that confidence in French democracy is waning.
A widely watched annual poll published by the Cevipof political institute at Sciences Po University in Paris showed in February that two out of three people (64%) thought French democracy was functioning “not well.”
An even higher proportion had negative feelings about politicians (72%) and still more (82%) thought politicians did not share their priorities.
The pensions reform has also revived debate about whether the current Constitution, the foundation of the modern fifth republic, is fit for purpose.