Macron to restart discussions over France’s controversial pension reforms

Macron to restart discussions over France's controversial pension reforms
A protest against Macron's proposed pension reform in March 2020. Photo: Bertrand GUAY / AFP.
The potentially explosive subject of pension reform is back on the table in France, with president Emmanuel Macron hosting a meeting with unions on Tuesday to discuss changes to the country's retirement system.

The aim of the meeting is to “discuss solutions to the great challenges”, including “building strong and sustainable growth”, “promoting the economy’s green transition”, and “preparing for demographic challenges”, the Elysée told AFP, but it’s the topic of pension reform that is already garnering the most attention.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in December 2019 and January 2020 to protest over planned pension reforms, and a series of transport strikes brought the country to a halt.

The government was able to push the bill through parliament despite this fierce opposition, before shelving the reform at the start of the pandemic to focus on the country’s economic recovery.

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However the issue is now back on the table – but reports suggest that rather than simply discussing when the previously agreed reforms should begin, Macron intends to introduce a different set of reforms.

Last month, Macron said he had no plans to pick up exactly where he left off. “I do not think that the reform as it was originally envisaged can go ahead as such,” Macron told reporters.

“It was very ambitious and extremely complex and that is why it generated anxiety, we must admit that. Doing it right now would mean ignoring that there are already a lot of worries.”

What changes?

It’s not clear exactly what would be changed in the new proposals

Had it been implemented, the 2019 reform plan would have created a universal points-based pension system to replace the country’s 42 different pension schemes.

It would also have created a “pivot age”, meaning the legal retirement age would remain 62, but most people would have to work for two more years to be entitled to a full pension, as well as abolishing some of the ‘special regimes’ that allowed, for example, train drivers to retire at 55.

Last week, Les Echos revealed that economy minister Bruno Le Maire is among those in government now pushing for a total change to the retirement age – moving it from 62 to 64.

The change would be gradual, with those born in 1961 retiring at 62.5 in 2022-2023, and every subsequent age group working six months longer, until those born in 1964 can retire at 64 in 2028-2029, according to Les Echos.

READ ALSO How do pensions in France compare to the rest of Europe?

What do other politicians say?

Apart from the push from those within his own party, Macron may also be feeling the pressure ahead of the presidential elections in 2022.

The Republican party’s Xavier Bertrand, who is seen as a potential threat from the centre-right, told Le Point: “By 2028-2030, we’ll need to work two years longer, until 64, and if life expectancy continues to progress in the following years, we’ll need to go up to 65.”

What do the unions say?

Shockingly, they are not happy.  Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting with the President, some union leaders have warned that they will resist any attempts to raise the retirement age, at a time when the health crisis has caused unemployment to rise.

“If you keep those who have a job in work for two more years, you’re closing the door to those who are looking for work,” Yves Veyrier, head of the Force ouvrière union told Le Parisien.

Speaking to LCI, Philippe Martinez, general secretary of the hard-line CGT union, called the proposed reform “an electoral objective” and said workers would have to mobilise to prevent it should the government decide to pursue the policy.

Geoffroy Roux de Bézieux, head of the MEDEF employers’ union, said he supports delaying the age of retirement, but added that the reform should not be rushed through.

“To implement this reform, you need political capital,” he told Les Echos. “For me, it’s a debate for the presidential election. All the candidates need to position themselves.” 

The legal retirement age was last changed in 2010, when it went from 60 to 62, meaning French workers still retire earlier than most Europeans.

When will we know more?

According to government spokesman Gabriel Attal, Macron will make his plans clear “before July 14th”.


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