Macron and unions lead France’s pension reform showdown

  • The retirement age should be raised from 62 to 64
  • Unions and left-wing opposition reject the reform
  • Passage in parliament depends on the law

PARIS, Jan 10 (Reuters) – French people would have to work two more years until age 64 before retiring, the government said on Tuesday, announcing an unpopular overhaul of the pension system that immediately prompted unions to call for strikes and demonstrations.

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

The passage of the reform in parliament will not be easy. The Macron government says it is vital to keep the pension budget out of the red. The unions argue that the reform is unfair and unnecessary.

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

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

“I am well aware that changing our pension system raises questions and fears among the French,” declared Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne shortly before at a press conference.

“Today we are proposing a balanced plan for our pension system, a plan that is fair,” she said, adding that France had to face reality.

Overhauling the pension system was a central pillar of Macron’s reform agenda when he entered the Elysee 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 easier.

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

“BRUTAL, CRUEL”

Macron and Borne will need to win the support of conservative lawmakers Les Républicains (LR) in the coming months to push the reform through parliament.

It seems less difficult than a few weeks ago after concessions on the retirement age – Macron had initially 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 heard us,” he said, while asking for more efforts to secure employment for people close to retirement age.

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

The Socialists, the far-left insubordinate France and the far-right National Rally quickly denounced the reform. Leftist MP Mathilde Panot called the plan “archaic, unjust, brutal, cruel”.

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

Under the government plan, the retirement age will be raised by three months a year from September, to reach the target age of 64 in 2030.

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

Other measures aim to boost the employment rate of 60-64 year olds, which is one of the lowest in the major industrialized countries.

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

Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Leigh Thomas, Stéphane Mahé, Tassilo Hummel, Blandine Henault; written by Ingrid Melander; edited by Richard Lough, Alexandra Hudson and Josie Kao

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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