Tens of thousands of people made their way through the streets of the French capital on Thursday afternoon. “Working beyond the age of 60 is bad for your health,” read the self-painted poster of a demonstrator.
More than 200 protest events took place nationwide. Official information on the number of participants was initially not available, the unions hoped for more than a million demonstrators throughout France. Strikes paralyzed the country: a large part of the long-distance trains of the state railway SNCF were cancelled, and local transport was also severely affected. Flight connections have been cancelled.
Schools and kindergartens remained closed due to a lack of teachers and educators. The energy company EDF had to reduce its nuclear power production because employees stopped work. The refineries in France were largely at a standstill.
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Macron is facing severe headwind for his reform plans presented on January 10, which include raising the retirement age. The country’s eight major trade unions have called for strikes and protests. This unity has not existed in the divided French trade union camp since 2010. Back then, too, it was about pension reform: Macron’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, had raised the retirement age from 60 to 62.
Increase to 64 years by 2030
According to Macron’s plans, the age limit is now to be increased by a further three months each year, reaching 64 in 2030. The government wants to abolish generous rules on early retirement for certain occupational groups, for example for employees of the Paris transport company or for employees in the energy sector. In polls, a clear majority of French people are against the reform project.
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The government’s main justification for the reform is that the aging of society is putting increasing pressure on the social systems. Without countermeasures, Paris fears that the pension fund could write a deficit of 13.5 billion euros in 2030.
Should Macron go through with the reform, the general retirement age of 64 in France would still be lower than that of many other European countries. In Germany, for example, the age limit will gradually increase to 67 in 2029.
In order to receive the full pension payment without deductions, according to the plans, French new pensioners must have at least 43 years of contributions from 2027. On the other hand, the new retirement age does not apply to French people who started working very early.
The promise of Macron’s government: Nobody should have to work longer than 44 years. Anyone who has been working since the age of 16 can therefore retire at the age of 60. There are also exceptions for people with particularly physically demanding activities who can no longer do them in old age. In addition, Macron wants to increase the minimum pension by 100 euros to around 1,200 euros a month in order to improve the situation for low earners.
Macron warns against blocking France
The cabinet is due to approve the pension law on January 23, and it is expected to be passed by parliament by the summer. The reform is scheduled to take effect from September 2023.
In the National Assembly, where Macron’s center government has not had an absolute majority since the parliamentary elections last summer, the right-wing national Rassemblement National (RN) and the left-wing alliance around the Indomitable France party are opposing the plans. Meanwhile, conservative-bourgeois Republicans have signaled they could help the president win a majority.
Macron had promised pension reform since moving into the Élysée Palace in 2017. During his first term in office, he tried his hand at an even more far-reaching restructuring of old-age security, in which the different regulations for professional groups were to be completely eliminated and a uniform point system for pension entitlements was to be introduced.
>> Read here: Macron wants to raise the retirement age to 64
The plans sparked months of protests, and at the beginning of the corona pandemic in spring 2020, the President canceled the attempt at reform. Even after his re-election in April 2022, Macron initially waited and sought talks with the unions and opposition about possible compromises – without success.
The President warned against “blocking the country” on Wednesday. He accused the representatives of the Left Alliance, who called for another “march for our pensions” in Paris on Saturday, of spreading “lies and untruths” about his reform plans.
Government wants to implement reform with determination
Macron was out of the country during the protests: he traveled to Barcelona on Thursday to talk to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez about joint energy projects and to sign a cooperation agreement between the two countries.
During his visit, however, the President could not avoid commenting on the demonstrations against the most important reform project of his second term. Macron said his proposal for restructuring old-age security was “fair and responsible.” The government will continue on the path it has taken “with respect, in dialogue, but with determination”.
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