And since Macron’s government introduced plans to push the retirement age back from 62 to 64 – France has been convulsed by regular strikes and protests that have drawn millions into the streets, not only in the capital, but in towns and villages across the country.
It is ultimately a modest reform, with the nation’s official retirement age rising gradually to 64 by 2030 and an accelerated increase in the required number of annual contributions from 41 years to 43 to qualify for a full pension.
Macron argues that without any changes, by 2030 the annual deficit in the pension regime will reach €14 billion ($22.4 billion).
But a broad alliance of France’s main unions have demonised the changes, and say they will continue to mobilise to try to force a U-turn on the changes. A further day of nationwide industrial action is scheduled for Thursday.
Published polling in the French media at the weekend revealed the decision to dodge the vote was opposed by 80 per cent of people – and even half of the president’s supporters.
All workers in France get a state pension, with the nation having the lowest qualifying age among the main European economies. The active working population pay high payroll charges and see fair pensions as the bedrock of how society should work.
While the retirement age may now be only 62, the actual age varies widely across the country’s complex system. Most of the more militant workers – on the railways, the Paris Metro, in electric power plants – are defending special pension regimes that allow them to retire in their 50s.
Members of the national ballet, for instance, who often start dancing at a young age, can retire as early as 42.
And so the average French person now spends more than a quarter of their life – from 22 years for men, to 26 for women – in retirement. Official government data shows that those who made it to 65 in 2021 could expect another 11 to 12 good years, on average.
Macron argues that requiring people in France to work two more years would invigorate the country’s economy and prevent its pension system from falling into deficit as the population ages. But critics have questioned the political wisdom of going ahead with the reform at a time when the public mood has been soured by high inflation.
Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, said the retirement reform “must be withdrawn”.
“We condemn violence … But look at the anger. It’s very strong, even among our ranks,” he said on RMC radio. “We’re fed up. We feel like we’re being trampled on and no one is listening.”
One of the confidence votes has been lodged by the right-wing National Rally (RN), headed by Marine Le Pen, who has twice lost to Macron at a presidential election. If a vote succeeds, the government must resign, leaving Macron to either form a new administration or dissolve parliament and call elections.
To reach the 287 votes needed in the National Assembly, the motion needs the support of about 30 of the 64 MPs from the centre-right Republicans. Éric Ciotti, the Republicans’ leader, has refused to support the motion, claiming: “We don’t want to add chaos to chaos.”
Antoine Bristielle, a political analyst at the Fondation Jean-Jaures, a Paris think-tank, said there’s a feeling that the government is not listening to people while behaving brutally in the National Assembly.
“People cannot understand why a bill that is so overwhelmingly rejected by voters would be forced through anyway,” Bristielle said.
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