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. According to polls, more than 70 percent of the public is against the measure.
The protests and demonstrations have been ongoing for months. On January 31, the biggest day of national protests, an estimated 1.27 million people took to the streets. The French are deeply committed to keeping the official retirement age at 62, which is among the lowest of any European country.
Macron made proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is needed to make the French economy more competitive and prevent the pension system from falling into deficit. France, like many wealthier nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancies.
The front door of the Bordeaux town hall was set on fire during a wild demonstration, just days after the government carried out a pension reform using article 49.3 of the constitution, March 23, 2023
Protesters march during a demonstration in Paris after President Emmanuel Macron inflamed public anger by forcing a higher retirement age on parliament without a vote, on March 23, 2023.
Firefighters sort through rubbish after extinguishing a fire during a demonstration, one week after the government passed 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, increasing two years from the current age of 62. But the change will be gradual at first. Starting in September, the retirement age will increase by three months each year until 2030.
Workers will now have to pay an additional year of pension contributions from 2027, increasing from 42 to 43 years if they want to collect their full pension. A 2014 reform had already stipulated it, but Macron’s legislation has accelerated the change.
After the reforms, a retiree will be guaranteed a minimum pension of at least 85 percent of France’s minimum wage. Currently, this would generate a net payout of around 1,200 euros (£1,055) per month.
After the first year of retirement, the minimum payment is linked to inflation.
How does this affect current pensioners?
Only 33 percent of people aged 60 to 64 are employed in France. This is significantly lower than in Germany at 61 percent and Sweden at 69 percent.
Through the new law, an additional €17.7bn in pension contributions (£15.5bn) will be made each year. The government says this will allow the pensions of the poorest 30 percent in the country to rise from 2.5 percent to five percent.
Firefighters go through trash after extinguishing a fire during a demonstration, March 23, 2023
Police officers in riot gear operate during a demonstration, with smoke in the background, in Bordeaux, western France, on March 23, 2023.
Protesters attend a demonstration in Nancy, eastern France, on March 23, 2023.
How was the controversial bill passed without a vote?
In March 2023, Macron decided to invoke the special power during a cabinet meeting a few minutes before a scheduled vote in the National Assembly, where the legislation was not guaranteed to win majority support.
The move ordered Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne to exercise special power to push the highly unpopular bill through the lower house of parliament without a vote. Subsequently, the Senate, the upper house of France, adopted the bill.
Article 49, paragraph 3, allows the prime minister, after a cabinet meeting, to approve the bill without a vote. Parliamentarians who oppose this have 24 hours to present a motion of no confidence in the government to prevent the approval of the bill.
Angry critics, political opponents and unions across France criticized Macron for his decision to push the bill through the legislature. Subsequently, French opposition lawmakers filed a vote of no confidence against the Macron government. Two failed attempts.
More than eight in 10 people in France are unhappy 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 radio showed.
A puppet representing French President Emmanuel Macron during a demonstration as part of the ninth day of national strikes, Nice, France, March 23, 2023.
Demonstrators hold an effigy of French President Emmanuel Macron, during a demonstration on the eighth day of nationwide strikes and protests against the government’s proposed pension reform in Paris on March 15, 2023.
What do the critics of the new era of pensions say?
Several unions in France say just a small increase in contributions would be enough. They have said the new retirement age is unfair, particularly for low-skilled workers in blue-collar jobs who start their job earlier than someone with a degree would.
Unions have also warned of more strikes to come.
The head of one of the unions, Laurent Berger of the CFDT, urged Macron to “make a gesture” to calm the protests and violence. She asked him to stop the reform for six months and find compromises.
Macron has since ruled this out, but said he was open to discussing future policy changes with the unions.
‘We will keep moving forward. France cannot stand still,’ he said. “We will not give in to violence, I condemn violence in the strongest possible terms.”
He added that the pension law would simply run its course, which is now a review of its legality by France’s constitutional council.