President Emmanuel Macron will look to “calm things down” with a televised interview on Wednesday amid growing anger across France over his plans to raise the retirement age, a source close to the centrist president said.
The question is whether Macron can achieve this. Advisers indicated the 1200 GMT interview would not contain any major policy announcements.
Neither a government reshuffle nor snap elections are on the cards, but rather an attempt to regain the initiative with measures to better involve citizens and unions in decision-making, political leaders in Macron’s camp said.
Rubbish bins and barricades were set ablaze in spontaneous protests in Paris and elsewhere in France in a sixth night of scuffles with police.
The ongoing protests could impact the planned state visit next week of Britain's King Charles, a Buckingham Palace source said.
This, alongside with rolling strikes that affect oil depots, public transport and garbage collection, represent the most serious challenge to the centrist president’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago.
Francois Bayrou, a veteran politician in Macron’s camp, told franceinfo radio that Macron’s interview needed both to stress the need for the pension changes and to look towards the future.
Macron, who will break his silence after weeks of leaving Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne in the front-line, wants to get back on the front foot and has asked leaders in his camp for ideas, a source who took part in meetings on Tuesday said.
Local media said Macron might postpone all or part of a much-disputed draft immigration bill in an attempt to calm the situation.
Polls show a wide majority of French are opposed to the pension legislation, which will raise the retirement age by two years to 64, as well as the government's decision to push the bill through parliament last week without a vote.
King Charles’ visit
Protesters on Wednesday also blocked train stations in the southern cities of Nice and Toulouse, part of broader improvised demonstrations across the country, that include refinery and depot blockages that have started to lead to petrol shortages.
Labor unions have announced another day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday.
“I don’t expect much from Macron’s speech,” pensioner Jacques Borensztejn said at a rally on Tuesday in Paris. “We don’t want this law and we’ll fight until it is withdrawn.”
“When there were 3.5 million of us in the streets, well, Emmanuel Macron still did not listen to what we had to tell him,” student Elonore Shmitt said at the same rally.
“So now we have to shift to more radical means of action, especially blocking the economy.”
Human rights groups and opposition politicians have denounced what they view as an excessive use of force by the police during these protests.
Paris police chief Laurent Nunez said there would be an investigation after footage of a police officer punching a protester went viral. He also said police were also readying tighter security controls ahead of King Charles’ planned visit, scheduled to begin on Sunday.
The Buckingham Palace source said the protests could impact the logistics of the visit, Charles’ first since becoming monarch.
The visit includes a trip to the Musee d’Orsay art gallery and dinner at the Chateau de Versailles, the gilded palace that was built in the 17th century during the reign of King Louis XIV. It also includes events at the Arc de Triomphe before taking the train to the southwestern city of Bordeaux.
Opposition lawmakers have asked for Macron to call off the visit.
“Unbelievable! We are going to have Emmanuel Macron, the monarch who is going to welcome King Charles III in Versailles,” Sandrine Rousseau, a senior lawmaker from the Ecologist party said. “Of course he should cancel this visit. Is the priority really to welcome Charles III in Versailles?”