The first rule of politics, said US President Lyndon Johnson, is ‘to be able to count’.

Johnson earned a reputation as a ruthlessly efficient majority-builder in the US Senate, and his ability to count the votes enabled his administration and the Kennedy government to pass the landmark civil rights and welfare laws that, almost 60 years on, are still largely intact.

Emmanuel Macron has always been good at counting votes. How else to explain the apparently effortless rise to the French presidency of a politician who started without a political party but, in about seven years, destroyed the parties of the left and right who have dominated politics in the Fifth Republic? 

This week’s decision to use the presidential decree powers in the constitution to force through an unpopular but economically logical pension reform is probably Macron’s biggest political miscalculation. 

Without an overall majority in the National Assembly, he would always rely on opposition MPs, primarily from the centre-right, to back reforms that lifted the retirement age in France from 62 to 64.  

It appears that it was only at the eleventh hour that Macron realised the numbers were too tight, deciding that the ‘financial and economic risks [of losing] are too great’ to take the proposals to a parliamentary vote. 

Ramming the reforms through by presidential decree underscores the scale of the power vested in the French presidency. But it is also a clear sign of weakness. 

Macron’s critics, including Communist lawmaker Fabien Roussel, say that the move amounts to a “denial of democracy”. While that is not strictly true, since pension reform was at the heart of Macron’s successful re-election campaign last May, it is rhetoric that will likely play well on the streets where the battle over pension reform will now be pitched. 

In this, there is a lesson from history.  

Johnson’s presidency and legacy were derailed not at the ballot box or in Congress but by the scale of public opposition to the Vietnam War.  

The president may be less than a year into his second term, but there are no question marks about his job security, though it could be different for his Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne. 

Less certain is the legacy of the Macron presidency. If the public protests and nationwide strikes seen in recent weeks escalate, potentially to a general strike, that will further embolden the left and far-right ranks in parliament and threaten what remains of the Borne government’s capacity to pass legislation.  

If Macron is to carve out a legacy over the next four years, he will have to learn how to count again. 

The Roundup

Talks to reach a political agreement on the joint procurement of ammunition for Ukraine are set to continue on Friday (17 March), as EU ambassadors seek to remove the final hurdles ahead of the expected approval next week.

The European Union should oppose what could become the world’s first octopus farm, two organisations said after plans for what they have termed a ‘cruel’ project to be located in the Canary Islands were announced.

The Romanian regulator announced on Friday the insolvency of the country’s largest car insurer, Euroins, a Bulgarian-owned company part of the Eurohold holding, a move that the latter decried as “hostile takeover”.

A bid by German publishers to split the European Media Freedom Act into a directive appears to have stalled amid broader opposition to the watering down of the proposal.

After months of back and forth, EU ministers finally settled on their negotiating position on a proposal to see the EU’s industrial emissions slashed, but their final agreement has not gone down well with farming stakeholders.

The European Commission set out a target on Thursday to enable 50 million tonnes of annual carbon dioxide injection capacity by 2030, a move that puts the oil and gas industry under pressure to deliver on a technology they have been peddling for years.

The European Commission wants to lower hydrogen prices by subsidising production, paying a part of the bill for every kilogram of hydrogen produced, a move that drew cheers from the industry and criticism from experts.

Bulgaria no longer receives Russian gas after Gazprom cut supplies unilaterally last April. But the Bulgarian authorities and the Russian monopolist are at loggerheads over the amount of the last bill, an investigation by EURACTIV Bulgaria has revealed.

The newly presented Critical Raw Materials Act has received praise for its ambitious approach to securing the supply of much-needed raw materials but concerns remain that the proposal may be no more than a toothless tiger.

While several EU countries and many in the agricultural sector are critical of the planned EU-Mercosur agreement, the German government has proven a champion of the trade deal in hopes of achieving sustainability through cooperation.

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and the market turmoil of the past week must push EU policymakers to rethink their approach to banking regulation and keep regulatory standards high, MEP Jonás Fernández told EURACTIV.

And finally, don’t forget to check out our Agrifood Brief: Schrödinger’s food security, and our Tech Brief: GPAI obligations, CRA’s lifetime extended.

Look out for…

  • Commissioner Vĕra Jourová speaks at conference ‘The Future is Digital: Getting up to Speed for the Digital World’ on Saturday.
  • Commission Vice-President Dubravka Suica on official visit to New York, Monday-Wednesday.

[Edited by Alice Taylor/Nathalie Weatherald]

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