Under pressure from the opposition and union protests, the French President has agreed to a two-month dialogue on pension reform. However, he wants to stick to the planned increase in the retirement age.
In France on Thursday there were demonstrations and strikes in around 200 cities for more wages, but above all against the announced reform of pension conditions. Schools, urban transport companies, the railways and other public services were affected by outages, but were by no means paralyzed: only some of the unions had called for this autumn’s first social mobilization.
The trade union centers CFDT and FO, which are willing to cooperate with the government, have made it unmistakably clear to the head of state Emmanuel Macron that they too would be determined to fight if he wanted to push his pension reform through the sledgehammer method or through a back door.
Even political friends complain
Since his government does not have an absolute majority in the Assemblée Nationale, the French parliament, Macron was already thinking of anchoring the pension reform proposal, which had been rejected by the opposition, directly in law, bypassing a parliamentary debate. Article 49.3 of the Constitution allows him to do this in matters relating to the state budget. According to this, a bill can be declared passed without a vote, and the opposition can only respond with a motion of no confidence in the government.
A few days ago, Macron had hinted that he wanted to undermine the opposition by including his reform in an additional motion in the law on financing social security. However, this was rejected even by political friends and partners. In particular, the center Democrat François Bayrou considers such an approach to be undemocratic and “inappropriate for such an important social issue”.
Exchange with social partners planned
Under double pressure from those around him and the protests of his political and trade union critics, Macron has now had to give in a little, albeit cheerlessly. At a working dinner with several ministers and representatives of the governing parties on Wednesday, he revised the method. He has commissioned his Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne to draw up a special bill before Christmas, which is then to be passed in spring after a proper parliamentary debate and come into force on July 1, 2023. But first – and this is no small concession – another consultation with the social partners and political parties is to take place in the next two months.
However, Macron wants to stick to the goals of his reform – a core part of his first election campaign and then again of his campaign for re-election: The retirement age, which is now officially 62 in France, is to be raised to 65. This adjustment is planned in stages: 64 years from 2027, 65 from 2031. In addition, Macron would like to convert the existing large number of special cash registers into a single system. Full pensions should be at least 1100 euros, and the hard work must also be taken into account when calculating the required contribution years.
These are issues that both the CFDT trade union and the conservative opposition want to discuss without reservation. Macron hopes the short two-month delay will allow him to split the unions and wrap up his reform before the summer without too much grueling trials and tribulations. Macron’s domestic balance sheet stands or falls with this reform.