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Macron to restart discussions over France’s controversial pension reforms

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.

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 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.

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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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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