February 9, 2023

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Macron, the unions are heading towards the French confrontation to reform the pension system

Macron, the unions are heading towards the French confrontation to reform the pension system
  • The retirement age is set to be raised from 62 to 64
  • Trade unions and the left opposition refuse to reform
  • Its adoption in Parliament depends on the right

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

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

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

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

An opinion poll conducted by Odoxa showed that four out of five citizens oppose raising the retirement age.

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

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

Pension reform was a mainstay of Macron’s reform agenda when he entered the Elysee Palace in 2017. But he halted his first attempt in 2020 as the government struggled to contain COVID-19.

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The second try won’t be easier.

“It’s slap after slap,” 56-year-old Frederic Bradrell said during a small protest in the western city of Rennes ahead of the Bourne announcement. “There are other ways to finance pensions than to raise the retirement age.”

“brutal, cruel”

Macron and Bourne will need to win support among conservative Republican lawmakers in the coming months to get the reform through parliament.

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

Olivier Marlix, who leads the LR group in the lower house of parliament, reacted positively to the Bourne ads.

“They heard us,” he said, while calling for more efforts to be made to ensure that people close to retirement age are employed.

However, LR is divided on the issue, so every vote counts.

The Socialists, the hard-left La France Ensoumise (France Unbowed), and the far-right National Rally were quick to denounce the reform. Left-wing lawmaker Mathilde Bannot called the plan “outdated, unfair, brutal and cruel”.

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

Under the government’s plan, the retirement age will be raised by three months annually from September, reaching the age of 64 in 2030.

From 2027, eight years earlier than planned in previous reforms, it will be necessary to work 43 years to receive a full pension.

Other measures aim to boost the employment rate among 60 to 64-year-olds, one of the lowest rates among the leading industrialized nations.

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

Additional reporting by Elisabeth Pineau, Lee Thomas, Stéphane Mahy, Tassilo Hamill and Blandine Henault; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Love, Alexandra Hudson, and Josie Kao

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