Why are the French protesting?
For months, people in France have been protesting against the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. More than 70 percent of the population is against the measure, according to polls.
Protests and demonstrations have been going on for months. On January 31, the largest day of national protests, an estimated 1.27 million people took to the streets. The French attach great importance to maintaining the official retirement age at 62, one of the lowest in European countries.
French President Emmanuel Macron made proposed pension changes the top priority of his second term, arguing that reforms are needed to make the French economy more competitive and prevent the pension system from plunging into deficit. France, like many wealthier countries, is experiencing lower birth rates and higher life expectancy.
The entrance door of the Bordeaux town hall burned down during a wild demonstration, a few days after the government introduced a pension reform based on article 49.3 of the constitution, March 23, 2023
Firefighters check rubbish after putting out a fire during a demonstration, a week after the government pushed a pension reform through parliament without a vote, March 23, 2023
What are the pension reforms in France?
The new retirement age will be 64 and will increase by two years from the current age of 62. But the change will be gradual at first. From September, the retirement age will increase by three months every year until 2030.
From 2027, employees will now have to pay an extra year of pension contributions, rising from 42 to 43 years, if they want to take their full pension. A 2014 reform had already established this, but Macron’s legislation has accelerated the change.
After the reforms, a pensioner will be guaranteed a minimum pension of at least 85 percent of the French minimum wage. Currently this would result in a payment of around 1,200 euros (£1,055) per month.
After the first year of retirement, the minimum benefit is linked to inflation.
What does this mean for current retirees?
Only 33 percent of 60 to 64-year-olds work in France. This is significantly lower than in Germany at 61 percent and Sweden at 69 percent.
The new law will see €17.7bn in pension contributions (£15.5bn) paid annually. The government says this could increase pensions for the country’s poorest 30 percent from 2.5 to 5 percent.
How did the controversial bill pass without a vote?
In March 2023, Macron decided to invoke the special power at a cabinet meeting minutes before a scheduled vote in the National Assembly, where the legislation failed to guarantee majority support.
The move ordered Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne to exercise a special power to push the highly unpopular bill through the lower house without a vote. The Senate, France’s upper house, later approved the bill.
Article 49, third paragraph, allows the Prime Minister, after a cabinet meeting, to adopt the bill without a vote. MPs who oppose this then have 24 hours to introduce a vote of no confidence in the government to prevent the bill from passing.
Angry critics, political opponents and unions across France have all criticized Macron for his decision to ram the bill through the legislature. French opposition lawmakers subsequently tabled a vote of no confidence in Macron’s government. Two attempts failed.
More than eight in 10 people in France are dissatisfied with the government’s decision to skip a vote in parliament, and 65 percent want strikes and protests to continue, a Toluna Harris Interactive poll for RTL found -radio.
Firefighters check garbage after extinguishing a fire during a demonstration, March 23, 2023
Protesters hold an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron during an 8th day demonstration of nationwide strikes and protests against the government’s proposed pension reform in Paris on March 15, 2023
What do critics of the new retirement age say?
A number of French trade unions say that only a small increase in contributions would be enough. They have called the new retirement age unfair – especially for low-skilled manual workers who start their jobs earlier than someone with a degree would.
Trade unions also warn of more strikes.
The head of one of the unions, Laurent Berger of CFDT, urged Macron to “make a gesture” to contain the protests and violence. She called on him to put reform on hold for six months and to look for compromises.
Macron has since rejected this, but said he was open to discussing future policy changes with unions.
‘We go on. France cannot stand still,” he said. “We will not give in to violence, I condemn violence with the utmost force.”
He added that the pension law would simply run its course – which is now a review of its legality by France’s constitutional council.