Emmanuel Macron’s pension plans spark renewed backlash in France as strikes and protests grip country
New nationwide strikes disrupted public transport and schools, as well as power, oil and gas supplies in France yesterday, while tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in a third round of protests against planned pension reforms.
The protests came a day after French lawmakers began debating a pension bill that would raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. The bill is the flagship legislation of President Emmanuel Macron’s second term.
Tens of thousands marched in the cities of Nice, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and elsewhere, as well as in Paris. Protesters in the French capital, many of whom were young, marched peacefully from the Opera area carrying placards reading “Save Your Pension” and “Tax Billionaires, Not Grandmas”.
France’s current pension system “is a democratic achievement in the sense that it is a French specialty that other countries envy,” said one protester, media worker Anissa Saudemont (29) .
“I feel that with high inflation, unemployment, the war in Ukraine and climate change, the government should focus on something else,” she added.
Last week, an estimated 1.27 million people demonstrated, according to authorities, more than in the first big protest day on January 19. More demonstrations, called by France’s eight main unions, were planned for Saturday.
Rail operator SNCF said train services were severely disrupted across the country, including on its high-speed network. International lines to Britain and Switzerland were affected. The Paris metro was also disrupted.
Saad Kadiui (37) , a consulting cabinet chief who had to go through a disrupted Paris train station , said he did not support the “wearisome” strikes. “There are other ways to protest the pension reform,” he said.
Mr Kadiui said he supported the principle of the pension reform but wanted the bill to be improved in parliament. “I think that for some jobs, 64 is too late,” he said.
Power producer EDF said the protest movement led to temporarily reduced electricity supplies, without causing blackouts. More than half of the workforce was on strike at the TotalEnergies refineries, according to the company.
The Education Ministry said close to 13pc of teachers were on strike, a decrease compared to last week’s protest day. A third of French regions were on scheduled school breaks.
Mr Macron vowed to go ahead with the changes, despite opinion polls showing growing opposition. The bill would gradually increase the minimum retirement age to 64 by 2030 and accelerate a planned measure providing that people must have worked for at least 43 years to be entitled to a full pension.
The government argues the changes are designed to keep the pension system financially afloat. France’s aging population is expected to plunge the system into deficit in the coming decade.
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