After the government decided to force through pension reforms that will raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, spontaneous protests broke out Thursday evening in Paris and a number of other French cities.
Although the proposed changes to France’s cherished pension system already sparked controversy, the bill’s approval by avoiding a vote in the country’s lower house, where President Emmanuel Macron’s party lacked a clear majority, arguably sparked the most outrage.
Additionally, France is rife with this fury.
According to data from the polling company IFOP, 78% of people over the age of 35 and 83% of young adults (18-24) considered the way the government passed the bill to be “unjustified.” Regardless of their opinions regarding the reforms, a majority of 58% of pro-Macron voters—those who cast their ballots for him in the first round of the presidential election last year, prior to a runoff with his far-right opponent—disapproved of the way the law was enacted.
Why is Macron so determined on this even though it’s unpopular?
During much of his time in office, Macron has championed social reforms, particularly those pertaining to the pensions system, as one of his main campaign promises for his re-election in 2022. But opposition from across the political spectrum has been so stoked by Thursday’s move that some are questioning his desire for reforms’ wisdom.
In an interview with TF1 on Thursday night, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne admitted that the government’s initial goal was to avoid using Article 49.3 of the constitution to block the reforms from passing through the National Assembly. She stated that the “collective decision” to do so was made at a meeting with the president, ministers, and lawmakers from the coalition in the middle of Thursday.
According to Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt, the pension deficit will reach more than $13 billion annually by 2027 if nothing is done immediately. Dussopt stated to CNN affiliate BFMTV, addressing opponents of the reforms, ” Do they believe that if we halt reforms, the deficit will also halt?
The government stated when the proposal was presented in January that the reforms would bring the deficit down to zero by 2030, with a multi-billion dollar surplus used to pay for measures that would permit physically demanding workers to retire earlier.
The reasoning for Budget Minister Gabriel Attal is clear. In an interview with France Inter on Friday, he stated, “We will have to take much more brutal measures in the future if we don’t do the reforms today.”
Why is this such a big deal for the French, who still have generous pension arrangements compared to other Western countries?
Political scientist at Sciences Po University Pascal Perrineau told CNN on Friday, “No pensions reform has made the French happy.”
He stated, “Each time there is opposition from public opinion, then the project passes little by little and basically, public opinion is resigned to it,” adding that the government’s failure was due to its inability to sell the project to French citizens.
They are not the only ones to encounter that obstacle. In France, pension reform has long been a contentious issue. Mass demonstrations that lasted for weeks in 1995 forced the current government to abandon plans to reform public sector pensions. In 2010, millions of people protested against raising the retirement age by two years to 62, and in 2014, more reforms were met with widespread opposition.
The pension system and social assistance in general are seen as the foundation of the state’s responsibilities and relationship with its citizens by many in France. In a nation where the state has long played a proactive role in ensuring a certain standard of living, the rights to a state-funded pension and healthcare were enshrined in the social system following World War II. These rights have since been jealously guarded.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, France has one of the lowest retirement ages in the industrialized world and devotes nearly 14% of its economic output to pensions, more than any other nation.
However, as social unhappiness over the rising cost of living grows, protesters at a number of strikes have recited the same mantra to CNN: They are heavily taxed and want to protect their right to a dignified later life.
Will the controversy give leverage to Macron’s critics?
Macron is still from the get-go in his subsequent term, having been reappointed in 2022, yet has four years to act as the nation’s chief. Notwithstanding any well known outrage, his position is alright for the present.
Nonetheless, Thursday’s utilization of Article 49.3 just builds up past reactions that he is withdrawn from well known feeling and irresolute to the desire of the French public.
Lawmakers to the extreme left and extreme right of Macron’s middle right party rushed to bounce on his administration’s transition to skirt a parliamentary vote.
“After the slap that the Head of the state just gave the French public, by forcing a change which they don’t need, I feel that Elisabeth Borne ought to go,” tweeted extreme right lawmaker Marine Le Pen on Thursday.
The head of France’s extreme left, Jean-Luc Melenchon rushed to pound the public authority, shooting the changes as having “no parliamentary authenticity” and calling for cross country unconstrained strike activity.
Political scientist Perrineau told CNN that public outrage over pension reforms will undoubtedly make it harder for Macron to implement additional reforms in the education and health sectors, which were halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Perrineau warns that the current controversy could eventually force Macron to negotiate more on future reforms, despite the fact that the French president is not known for making concessions.
Perrineau stated that his propensity to be “a little imperious, a little impatient” can make political negotiations more difficult.
He adds that this is “possibly the limit of Macronism.”