Despite protests, Emmanuel Macron is sticking to the pension reform

Emmanuel Macron, France’s President, defended his unpopular plan to raise the retirement age on Wednesday as key to fixing public finances, but acknowledged public anger at his government’s decision to pass the law without a parliamentary vote.

“Do you think I like doing this reform? No,” Macron said in a television interview. “But there aren’t a hundred ways to balance the accounts. . . This reform is not a luxury or a pleasure, it is a necessity for the country.”

It was the first time Macron had spoken publicly since his government pushed the pension bill through parliament and survived the resulting no-confidence votes.

Since then, isolated small protests have erupted every night in cities from Paris to Rennes, resulting in more than 800 arrests. Unions have vowed to keep the pressure up with a nationwide demonstration on Thursday.

Officials are closely monitoring the situation — 12,000 police will be on duty as of Thursday — for fear of a return to the chaotic days of World War II yellow vests protests 2018.

Macron said he respected citizens’ constitutional rights to demonstrate peacefully but condemned the actions of some protesters, who threatened MPs and defaced their offices. “We will not tolerate outbreaks,” he said.

Apparently comparing these protesters to those who stormed the US Capitol in 2021, he said: “When the US went through what they went through on Capitol Hill, when Brazil went through what it went through, when you experienced the extreme violence in Germany had, in the Netherlands or sometimes we have to say here: we respect, we listen . . . but we cannot accept rebels and factions.”

The strikes at garbage collection points and petrol refineries as well as on public transport continue. Dockers in Marseille blocked access to France’s largest commercial port on Wednesday, preventing cars from entering.

In response, the government has begun calling in workers to clean up the 10,000 tons of rubbish in Paris and restart petrol deliveries in the south.

Macron defended both the substance of the pension reform – which would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and require people to work 43 years to receive a full pension – and the method by which it was implemented.

He also confirmed that the changes would come into force by the end of the year, provided the law withstands a final scrutiny by the Constitutional Court in the coming weeks.

Macron has long argued that the change is necessary to protect the viability of France’s pension system, which relies on current workers to fund payments to retirees. He warned that deficits would otherwise explode as the population ages.

“When I started working there were 10 million retirees; Today it’s 17 million and by 2030 it will be 20 million,” he said. “Do you really think we can carry on with the same rules?”

The president brushed aside a question about whether he would reshuffle the government or appoint a new prime minister. He said the government led by Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne had his “trust” and had asked her to work on a new legislative agenda that could help boost support in Parliament.

Philippe Martinez, leader of the hard-line union CGT, slammed Macron for not listening to the anger expressed on the streets. “The interview is bizarre. . . [and shows] Contempt for the millions of people demonstrating. . . there was no response,” he said at a union meeting, according to Agence France-Presse.

Laurent Berger, leader of the more moderate CFDT union, warned that Macron’s stance amounts to a provocation. He called on “workers to join en masse in Thursday’s protests” to show their dissatisfaction.

A Flash poll by Harris Interactive showed that half of those polled said Macron’s interview would fuel protests, while just 9 percent said it would calm them down.

Previous polls showed that two-thirds of the French are opposed to raising the retirement age, although workers in other European countries tend to retire later and with lower pensions than French retirees.

France spends 13 percent of its national output on pensions annually, compared to an EU average of 10.3 percent. The €330 billion spent on pension benefits last year dwarfed the €54 billion spent on education and the €41 billion spent on defence. Despite protests, Emmanuel Macron is sticking to the pension reform

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