February 7 signifies the third day of nationwide protests in France, challenging French President Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 years. Surveys by OpinionWay, a French research company, show that nearly two-thirds of the French population disagrees with this new reform.
During the winter of 2019 and 2020, Macron first announced his intention to introduce pension reforms. As this triggered the biggest strikes in France since 1968, Macron was forced to put aside these plans. With his re-election against Le Pen and her far-right party in 2022, Macron is once again trying to pass reforms to the pension system.
According to French authorities, around 1.2 million people in 200 different cities took to the streets in the last few weeks following Macron’s announcement. 8 unions took part in the protests, including the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) trade union. As a result, transportation lines, schools and hospitals became disrupted. The protest movement has reached historic heights, even exceeding participant numbers from the winter of 2019.
Since Macron was elected president in 2017 as leader of the liberal, centrist party En Marche, he has promised pro-business changes in the country that would challenge France’s welfare system. However, the President has now been criticized for wanting to introduce these changes at a time of social instability following the COVID-19 pandemic and amidst the European energy crisis.
France’s pension system functions using principles of social welfare. The “working population pays mandatory payroll charges to fund those currently in retirement.” While all French workers get state pension, not everyone can retire at the age of 62. If the required “number of quarters of contribution” has not been met, a maximum-rate pension is only possible between the age of 65 and 67. Because France has one of the lowest retirement ages in Western Europe and an increasingly aging population, Macron deems it necessary to reform the system.
Many protesters actually voted for Macron in the last presidential election of 2022. However, many people who voted for Macron did not do so in support of his party and policies, but rather against Le Pen. As Macron’s party lost the parliamentary majority in 2022, the public outrage against his pension plan may be the topic that defines his legacy as President.
Although Macron’s party alone cannot pass the pension reform in parliament, the support of the traditional conservative party Les Républicains (LR) can constitute a majority. Paul Smith, professor of French Politics at Nottingham University, explained that while many LR members of Parliament do not want to appear “too ‘Macron-compatible’”, LR has “historically supported” pension reforms.
Macron could also employ controversial Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, allowing a President to pass a bill without a parliamentary vote. However, this may make Macron vulnerable to a vote of no confidence.
Whether Macron’s pension plan will become a reality will depend on what prevails: ultimately public consensus or alignments within parliament.
Featured image by: REUTERS / Sarah Meyssonnier