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Macron and unions head to confrontation of French pension reform

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  • Retirement age will be raised from 62 to 64
  • Unions and left-wing opposition reject reform
  • Approval in parliament depends on the right

PARIS, Jan 10 (Reuters) – The French must work two more years to age 64 before retiring, the government said on Tuesday, announcing an unpopular reform of the pension system that immediately prompted unions to call strikes and protests.

The right to retire at a relatively young age is deeply valued in France and the reform will be a major test of President Emmanuel Macron’s ability to bring about change as social discontent mounts on the cost of living.

Passing the reform through parliament will not be easy. Macron’s government says it is vital to keep the pension budget out of the red. Unions argue that the reform is unfair and unnecessary.

“Nothing justifies such brutal reform,” Laurent Berger, leader of the moderate and reformist CFDT union, told reporters after union leaders agreed to a nationwide strike on Jan. 19, which will kick off a series of strikes and protests.

An Odoxa poll showed that four out of five citizens are opposed to a higher retirement age.

“I am well aware that changing our pension system raises doubts and fears among the French,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told a news conference shortly beforehand.

“Today we offer a project to balance our pension system, a project that is fair,” she said, adding that France had to face reality.

Pension reform was a central pillar of Macron’s reformist agenda when he entered the Élysée Palace in 2017. But he shelved his first attempt in 2020 as the government struggled to contain COVID-19.

The second attempt will not be any easier.

“It’s one slap in the face after another,” Frederic Perdriel, 56, said during a small protest in the western city of Rennes ahead of Borne’s announcement. “There are other ways to fund pensions besides raising the retirement age.”

“BRUTAL, CRUEL”

Macron and Borne will need to gain support among conservative Les Republicains (LR) lawmakers in the coming months to pass the reform through parliament.

That looks less challenging than it did a few weeks ago, after concessions on a retirement age – originally Macron wanted it to be 65 – and a minimum pension.

Olivier Marleix, who leads the LR group in the lower house of parliament, reacted positively to Borne’s announcements.

“They listened to us,” he said, calling for more efforts to secure jobs for people approaching retirement age.

Even so, LR is split on the issue, so every vote counts.

The socialists, the extreme left La France Insoumise (Unsubmissive France) and the extreme right of the National Rally were quick to denounce the reform. Leftist lawmaker Mathilde Panot called the plan “archaic, unfair, brutal, cruel”.

“The French can count on our determination to block this unjust reform,” said far-right Marine Le Pen.

According to the government’s plan, the retirement age will be raised by three months a year from September, reaching the target of 64 years in 2030.

From 2027, eight years ahead of schedule in previous reforms, it will be necessary to have worked 43 years to receive the full pension.

Other measures aim to increase the employment rate among people aged 60 to 64, which is one of the lowest among major industrialized countries.

With one of the lowest retirement ages in the industrialized world, France also spends more than most countries on pensions, nearly 14% of economic output, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Leigh Thomas, Stephane Mahe, Tassilo Hummel, Blandine Henault; written by Ingrid Melander; editing by Richard Lough, Alexandra Hudson and Josie Kao

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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