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5 minutes to understand . . . French pension reform

France is locked in conflict over plans for a major reform of the country's pension system - here's what is proposed and why it will affect you, even if you're not entitled to a French pension.

5 minutes to understand . . . French pension reform
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. Photo by Thomas SAMSON / AFP


Emmanuel Macron’s government has announced a major overhaul of the French pension system.

The reform is complicated but it comes in two parts – streamlining and simplifying the current system for calculating pensions and raising the retirement age from 62.

Key points: France’s pension reform


France’s pension system is a contribution based one – everyone working in France has pension contributions automatically deducted from their earnings each month into a government-administered scheme. When they get to retirement age, their monthly pension is then calculated based on their contributions.

However at present there are dozens of different pension ‘regimes’ based on employment type, some of which have extra perks such as allowing for early retirement.

The government wants to streamline this into a single system that is the same for everyone.

Controversially, they also want to raise the current retirement age from 62 to 64.


Prime minister Elisabeth Borne announced the full details in mid January after discussions with unions, and the proposal will come before parliament for debate in March.

The government wants the measure passed and coming into effect by September 1st.

Why should I care?

Many foreigners in France will not be directly affected by this change, if they have not worked in France for long enough to qualify for a French pension (for example people who retire to France), so this can all seem a bit academic.

But it will likely affect you anyway for one simple reason – strikes.

The reform is hugely controversial and unions have promised the ‘mother of all battles’ against it.

December 2019 and January 2020 saw the longest continuous transport strikes since 1968 and that was also over pension reform – in that case the less controversial aspect of the reform which did not include pension age.

The first day of strikes is January 19th, which caused massive disruption especially in schools and on public and it is highly likely that periodic strikes will continue until the reform bill comes before the parliament in March.

Calendar: The French pension strike dates to remember

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French Prime Minister Macron doubles down on pension age as strikes loom

France's prime minister on Sunday ruled out backtracking on a plan to raise the retirement age as unions prepared for another day of mass protests against the contested reform.

French Prime Minister Macron doubles down on pension age as strikes loom

An increase in the minimum retirement age to 64 from the current 62 is part of a flagship reform package pushed by President Emmanuel Macron to ensure the future financing of France’s pensions system.

After union protests against the change brought out over a million people into the streets on January 19, the government signalled there was wiggle room on some measures, including the number of contributing years needed to qualify for a full pension, special deals for people who started working very young, and provisions for mothers who interrupted their careers to look after their children.

But the headline age limit of 64 was not up for discussion, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Sunday.

“This is now non-negotiable,” she told the FranceInfo broadcaster.

While unions have welcomed the government’s readiness for negotiation on parts of the plan, they say the proposed 64-year rule has to go.

Calling the reform “unfair” France’s eight major unions, in a rare show of unity, said they hoped to “mobilise even more massively” on Tuesday, their next scheduled protest day, than at the showing earlier this month.

“Even more people”

“It’s looking like there will be even more people”, said Celine Verzeletti, member of the hardleft union CGT’s confederation leadership.

Pointing to opinion polls, Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, said that “the people disagree strongly with the project, and that view is gaining ground”.

It would be “a mistake” for the government to ignore the mobilisation, he warned.

Unions and the government both see Tuesday’s protests as a major test.

Some 200 protests are being organised countrywide, with a big march planned for Paris, culminating in a demonstration outside the National Assembly where parliamentary commissions are to start examining the draft law on Monday.

The leftwing opposition has submitted more than 7,000 amendments to the draft in a bid to slow its path through parliament.

Macron’s allies are short of an absolute majority in parliament and will need votes from conservatives to approve the pensions plan.

The government has the option of forcing the bill through without a vote under special constitutional powers, but at the risk of triggering a vote of no confidence, and possibly new parliamentary elections.

In addition to protest marches, unions have called for widespread strike action for Tuesday, with railway services and public transport expected to be heavily affected.

Stoppages are also expected in schools and administrations, with some local authorities having already announced closures of public spaces such as sports stadiums.

Some unions have called for further strike action in February, including at commercial ports, refineries and power stations.

Some observers said the unions are playing for high stakes, and any slackening of support Tuesday could be fatal for their momentum.

“They have placed the bar high,” said Dominique Andolfatto, a professor for political science. “They can’t afford any missteps.”