Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise France’s retirement age by two years to 64 is being met with fierce opposition in parliament and on the streets, as legislators begin debating the draft law and unions hold a national strike on Tuesday.
Opposition politicians have filed a flurry of 20,000 amendments to slow down the debate, with a vast majority from the left-wing Nups coalition which opposes any increase in the retirement age.
Across the country, protests are gathering momentum, with more than a million people expected to attend two demonstrations this week. A recent Harris Interactive poll confirmed the hardline public stance, with only 35 per cent supporting the government’s proposal, nine points lower than at the end of December.
But it is in parliament where the real risk lies because Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has not yet gathered the majority needed to pass the draft law, despite making concessions. The labor minister was shouted down during the presentation of the plan to the National Assembly on Monday and debate was temporarily suspended.
The struggle over pension reform is a sign of how Macron’s agenda for a second term has been complicated by his party’s defeat in June legislative elections, leaving the president’s centrist coalition with 250 lawmakers. He would have to win over opposition leaders to reach 289 votes, or persuade some to abstain, to win a majority.
The government has the power to override parliamentarians and pass laws by decree under the French constitution, but given the sensitivity of the subject, Bourne has so far sought to win over wary parliamentarians. “I want to have a majority,” she told the Journal du Dimanche. “All my efforts have gone in that direction in recent weeks and months.”
Borne is trying to reach an agreement with the conservative Les Républiques (LR) party, as part of its strategy to gain the roughly 40 extra votes needed. Initially, it looked as if the group of 61 MPs led by Eric Ciotti would say yes, as long as the government agreed to some changes, such as raising the minimum pension. LR has long supported raising the retirement age to 64 or 65 out of a desire to clean up public finances.
But a rebel faction has emerged within the LR and is pushing for more concessions to reduce the impact on those starting work at an early age. Bourne sought to address their concerns by agreeing to an amendment on Sunday that would allow people who retire at 63 instead of 64 to work between 20 and 21 years in an extension of an existing scheme for workers with “long careers”. will start doing
Aurélien Pradi, an MP for the south-west Lot region who is the LR’s number two and leader of the rebels, dismissed Bourne’s idea as “a ploy” they would not fall for. “We have put our conditions on the table, so now it is up to the government,” Pradi said. “If they don’t accept our amendment without changing a single comma, they won’t get the votes they need.”
Macron’s government has argued that raising the retirement age is an essential measure to ensure the viability of France’s pension system, which relies on the current workforce to pay retirees. Otherwise, losses will pile up as the population ages, it said.
The proposal aims to generate €18bn in annual cost savings by 2030, but around one-third would be spent on sweeteners to reduce the impact on the most vulnerable workers, such as raising the minimum pension to €1,200 before tax.
Further weakening Macron’s hand are the presidential ambitions of both his allies and his opponents as they look to replace him in 2027, when the constitution’s two-term limit means he cannot run again.
Some within Macron’s own centrist coalition have begun to take digs at the reform plan. Naïma Moutchou, a lawmaker for the Horizons party led by Édouard Philippe, Macron’s former prime minister and presidential candidate, said the party’s 29 legislators would be “loyal but demanding” while pushing for the changes.
Meanwhile, the Modem party, led by François Bayro, who also has presidential ambitions, is pushing for a review clause that would require parliamentary review of the changes by 2027 or earlier.
With friends like that, it’s no surprise that Macron’s pension reform is causing a furore in parliament, said Bruno Pallier, an expert at Sciences Po university in Paris. “Everyone who has ambitions in 2027 is positioning themselves because they know that pension reform is a very visible and major issue that shapes voters’ choices,” he said.
“Even if Macron achieves this, it may well be a pyrrhic victory that feeds the populist narrative that the elite do not listen to them and help the far right.”