By Gauri Patel
Protests have erupted across France over President Emmanuel Macron’s move to force through pension system reforms that will raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, according to AP News.
Although the proposed pension reforms have already been unpopular among workers since the measure was put forth in January, the manner in which the bill was passed has sparked the most anger. After it became apparent that the bill would not be passed through the parliament, on March 16, Macron ordered Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to invoke a special constitutional power to force the bill through without a vote, according to NPR.
Without the constitutional power, known as Article 49.3, the bill would have had to go through the National Assembly, or the lower house of the parliament. Macron’s party lacks an outright majority in the lower house, meaning it most likely would not have been approved.
This action was not well-received by the public. According to CNN, an Institut français d'opinion publique poll found that 83% of young adults, aged 18-24, and 78% of those aged 35 and over believed the manner in which the government passed the bill was unjustified. Even those who supported Macron during the first round of last year’s presidential election disagreed with how the law was passed, regardless of their opinions about the pension reforms.
Part of the reason behind the protests is the work culture in France. Heavy emphasis is placed on having work-life balance, quality of life and a comfortable retirement.
"The French are fiercely protective of their universal health care and generous pensions,”
reporter Lisa Bryant told NPR. “And it's a choice society has made: Work hard, pay high taxes, but also retire at a relatively young age with a high standard of living."
The French government claims the current pension system is no longer fit for purpose, according to CNN. Relying on the working population to pay for the growing number of retirees will not be sufficient due to the rising pension deficit. According to Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt, the pensions deficit will reach more than $13 billion annually by 2027 if no immediate action is taken.
Referring to the opponents of the reforms, Dussopt asked CNN affiliate BFMTV, “Do they imagine that if we pause the reforms, we will pause the deficit?”
After the announcement of the constitutional power being invoked, lawmakers on the right and left filed no-confidence motions, or votes to remove a party’s or individual’s control over the government. Both no-confidence motions failed after a vote was taken, meaning the bill to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 will become law, according to BBC.
Had the motions been successful, it would have meant the end of the retirement reform plan, and Macron would have had to name a new government or call new elections.
Mass protests have been regularly held throughout the country since mid-January, yet the failed votes on the no-confidence motions saw fresh protests in the capital. Millions have turned out to voice their opposition to the government’s plan, with strikes in the transport, sanitation and education sectors.
On March 17, several thousand protestors gathered at Place de Concorde where they faced a line of riot police. Tear gas was used to disperse the crowds after individuals climbed scaffolding on a renovation site, armed with wood, fireworks and paving stones, according to AP News.
Sanitation workers only recently returned to work after a weeks-long strike that began on March 6. Mounds of trash reaching up to 10,000 tons lined the streets of Paris as workers continued to block Europe’s largest incineration site and two other sites that treat Paris garbage, according to AP News.
In total, more than 1 million people took to the streets of France to protest the increase in retirement age.
The United States may see a similar battle, as issues with funding shortfalls have resulted in a Republican proposal for pushing the retirement age higher. According to the Social Security Administration, individuals can start receiving their Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. The Republican Study Committee budget, proposed by House leaders, has called for the full retirement age for Social Security, or when workers are eligible for 100% of the benefits they’ve earned, to gradually increase by three years. This means people born in 1978 or later would have a full retirement age of 70, according to CNBC.
Labor unions in France have expressed they do not intend to back down soon. The eleventh day of strikes was scheduled for April 6.