On Tuesday, the French government will announce proposals to raise the retirement age and reform the pension system, as part of a potentially explosive reform fraught with risks for President Emmanuel Macron.
Insisting that the French “need more work”, Macron has pushed to streamline the pension system since coming to power in 2017.
Although he canceled his first bid in 2020 in the face of protests and the Covid-19 pandemic, the 45-year-old centrist put the issue at the center of his successful re-election campaign last year.
In addition to streamlining the system and removing privileges enjoyed by workers in some sectors, the reform will raise the retirement age from 62 – likely to 64.
It would also increase the number of years people must work to qualify for a full pension.
“In general, the idea of reform is not supported by the public, although some can understand that if we live longer, we may need to work longer,” Bruno Cottres, a political expert at Sciences Po University in Paris, told AFP. AFP.
In the northeastern city of Lille, Olivier Rohas, 41, told AFP that retiring later would “really hurt our quality of life” – despite recognizing the need to “pay our pensions” one way or another.
– Yellow Jackets II? –
Trade unions and most opposition parties see it as a struggle over the French social order and a way to undermine Macron.
The former investment banker made pensions a priority for a second term despite losing his parliamentary majority in legislative elections in June.
“If Emmanuel Macron wants to make it the mother of reforms…for us it will be the mother of battles,” Frederic Soylu, the head of the hard-left FO trade union, warned over the weekend.
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Street protests and strikes seem inevitable, with Macron’s latest attempt leading to the longest stoppage of public transport in Paris in three decades.
“The government is right to be afraid,” said Mathilde Bannot, parliamentary leader of the far-left France Unbid (LFI) party.
Ministers’ biggest fear is a repeat of the spontaneous protests of 2018, when people in fluorescent yellow safety vests began blocking roads, sparking what became known as the ‘yellow vest’ rebellion.
The often violent display of defiance struck fear into the heart of the government, prompting Macron to promise a gentler, less authoritarian style of government.
“I don’t foresee another ‘yellow vest’ crisis,” Cottres told AFP, though he said the national mood was “pessimism, fatalism, anger” and a sense that we were “in permanent crisis”.
Some in government are betting that the country will accept a change widely unwanted but seen as inevitable, especially given that most of France’s neighbors have raised the retirement age to 65 or more.
“There is a form of fatalism,” a Macron aide told AFP recently, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re going to get through it and people know that.”
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The government has also softened some of its proposals, with the retirement age likely to be 64 instead of 65 proposed by Macron.
There would also be a proposed increase in the minimum pension to 1,200 euros ($1,280) per month and larger allowances for people who did not work continuously, such as parents who took career breaks to care for their children.
– ‘President of the rich Macron’ –
Critics see the changes as regressive and unnecessary, although official projections show the system running a huge deficit in the coming decades due to a gradually aging population.
“In 2023, will Emmanuel Macron be out of date and resplendent as the president of the rich?” asked left-wing French economist and author Thomas Piketty in Le Monde newspaper on Sunday.
He said the reform could save the state up to 20 billion euros a year, but that “the problem is that these 20 billion will burden the poorest entirely” with longer jobs.
In addition to facing strikes and protests, Macron’s government will also need to strike a deal to gain support in the stormy parliament.
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Negotiations are underway with the right-wing Republican Party.
Without their support, Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne would have to use a constitutional power known as Article 49.3 that enables her to pass legislation without a vote — at the risk of raising a motion of no confidence that would bring down the government.
Born will unveil the outlines of the proposed law at 5:30 pm (1630 GMT) and will speak on French television later in the evening.