Macron accused of force-feeding France with despised reforms as backlash mounts

Government plans to merge the country’s myriad pension schemes into a single, points-based system and raise the retirement age by two years have sparked nationwide uproar.

Attacking Mr Macron’s plans, Mr Quatennens, a member of the leftist La France Insoumise party, told France Info radio: “The government baked a cake which is indigestible – its points-based pension system. And then it put a cherry on top of this cake – the pivot age of 64.

“But then everyone started talking about the pivot age as though it was central to the reform, when in fact it was only a very small part of the overall plan.

“And then the government said: ‘We’ve found a compromise on the cherry! Now just swallow our cake’. That’s just unacceptable.”

The Macron government “is putting all of its energy into beating strikers instead of focusing on convincing the French” of the benefits of the pension reform, Mr Quatennens continued.

“I want the strike to continue because at the end of the day, it’s one of the only ways to maintain a balance of power with the government,” he said.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen echoed his remarks later in the day, as she urged the French to “continue opposing the pension reform.”

“I call for a referendum. It’s the best way to end the strike action,” she told the news channel BFMTV.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Saturday offered a major olive branch to unions contesting the overhaul of the pension system, in a move aimed at ending the weeks-long strike action.

Mr Philippe said he was prepared to shelve plans to raise the retirement age for full pension benefits by two years to 64 if certain conditions were met.

“The compromise that I’m offering … seems to be the best way to peacefully reform our retirement system,” he said.

He made the concession after talks between the government and unions to break the deadlock failed last week.

The pension reform aims to fuse France’s 42 sector-specific pension schemes into a single, points-based system under which for each euro contributed, every pensioner would have equal rights.

The government had hoped to create incentives to make people work longer, notably by raising the age at which a person can draw a full pension to 64 – the so-called “pivot age” – while maintaining the legal retirement age at 62.

Mr Macron insists the changes will make the system fairer, while also putting it on a more sound financial footing.

The pivot age would have saved £4.3 billion (five billion euros) by 2023 and some £9.4 billion (11 billion euros) by 2026, according to the government.

But the pension overhaul has infuriated unions who argue the changes will scrap hard-earned benefits and leave millions of pensioners worse off.

The hardline CGT union, which wants the reform abandoned altogether, rejected the offer and called on workers to take part in strikes and protests planned for this week.

The government’s overture came as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through Paris against the reform on Saturday. The protest turned violent on its fringes, with police firing tear gas at rioters smashing shop windows and lighting rubbish bins and billboards on fire.

With one of the lowest retirement ages among industrialised nations, France currently spends the equivalent of 14 percent of economic output on pensions.

The Macron government still hopes to present the pension reform bill on January 24 so that it can be discussed in parliament starting in mid February with the aim of passing a law before the summer break.

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