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France: Why Has Pension Reform Caused Such Marked Uprisals


French cities have been the stage of diffused protests and disorder since the beginning of 2023. Why is Macron insisting despite the clear opposition?

The reason behind the numerous disruptions is the introduction of reforms with regards to the general retirement age in the country, advanced by the president Emmanuel Macron. The unsatisfaction with the proposed changes has led to the protests that have been animating the country for more than a month now.

Proposed changes

The retirement age in France has always been significantly lower compared to its neighbours. French people, in fact, have been able to retire from the workforce at the age of 62. Macron, however, has decided to shift this trend, delaying the general retirement age from 62 to 64. This means that French people will now have to work for 2 more years before being able to receive pension funds from the government and, the years they will have to make contributions to get the full state pension has been extended from 42 to 43.

Pensions guarantee the respect of crucial human rights

The first problem with the proposal is the fact that pension reforms are seen to go against the rights of French citizens, who have benefitted from an early retirement age for a long time. In the 1980s, in fact, the Mitterand presidency managed to bring down the age to which people can retire from the workforce from 65 to 60. Ever since, the French public has held significant pride in this, and the low retirement age has increasingly been seen as a “right”. Moreover, this is seen as a necessary means to protect the right to health and wellbeing. Since one’s health starts declining in the early 60s, being forced to work past that is seen by many as a violation of this right. This is especially true for people who perform physically demanding jobs. Being it that they suffer more the consequences of working for longer periods of time, many feel as they are being discriminated by the government through the implementation of this policy.

Use of article 49.3

The second problem with the reforms is the process through which this is sought to be achieved by the president. With regards to the implementation of this policy, in fact, Macron has opted for the invocation of the article 49.3, which has generated much controversy. The article 49.3 is a part of the French constitution that allows the government to pass a law without the consent of the National Assembly (France’s lower house parliament). This means that, by ignoring the vote of the National Assembly, the government can forcefully impose a change, which it knows it will encounter the opposition of the population. Being it that this procedure ignores the voice of the public, it is seen by many as detrimental to the democratic system. Polls have shown, in fact, that most of the population is opposed to its use and, it is its implementation that has outraged the French people.

Why is Macron insisting despite the clear opposition?

The reform on the retirement age has long been part of Macron’s political agenda. This fits into the series of changes that the president seeks to implement before the end of his mandate. These changes were hinted at during the 2022 elections, where reforms to the social structure of the country occupied a place in the president’s manifesto, for financial reasons. According to him, in fact, the current pension system is no longer sustainable as, allowing people to retire at such a young age does not enable the government to cover the costs of the pensions of those who already benefit from them. Maintaining the current system is bound to create a deficit that exceeds the $13 billion each year by 2027, forcing future administrations to implement even harsher measures. Postponing the general retirement age, on the other hand, would balance the deficit by 2030 and allow for the creation of a surplus. This could be used to enable those who perform more physically challenging jobs to retire at an earlier age.

 

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