Macron wants changes to French pension plan in place by year’s end
Paris — President Emmanuel Macron is stubbornly resisting growing discontent on the streets of France, saying on Wednesday that the pension bill he pushed through without a vote in parliament to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 must be implemented by the end of the year.
After his interview broadcast on national television, critics attacked Macron, describing him as “self-satisfied,” “out of touch” and “offensive.”
Some suggested that the president is playing with fire amid strikes and daily demonstrations, some leading to clashes with police. Unions have called for nationwide protests on Thursday that are likely to further raise tensions.
“He is in absolute denial,” said Olivier Faure, the head of the Socialist Party. It’s as though “there’s a well lit fire and he is pouring jerrycans of gas on the flames.”
The president’s remarks Wednesday were his first since the government finally forced the pension bill through parliament last week, then survived two no-confidence votes in the lower chamber of parliament Monday.
France’s Constitutional Council will review the bill in the coming weeks, and it can only be turned into law after the body gives its approval.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has taken the brunt of the opposition’s fury during often nasty parliamentary debates, but Macron said in his interview Wednesday that he “trusts” her to continue leading the government and suggested that he is not planning a government reshuffle.
The 45-year-old centrist president, in his second and final term, repeatedly said he was convinced that France’s retirement system needed to be modified to keep it financed.
“That reform is not a luxury, it is not fun. It’s a necessity for the country,” he said, while conceding that “we must listen to (its opponents), listen to their anger and respond to it.”
As he spoke, dockers in Marseille, garbage workers in Paris striking for a 17th day and energy workers at a Normandy refinery were among those refusing to work and setting up blockades.
A partial disruption of fuel shipments due to blocked refineries in Normandy and southern France led to shortages at gas stations, notably in the southeast, while rubbish piled up in Paris despite a police order to provide at least a minimum level of service.
In the Brittany city of Rennes, a protest by fishermen angry at rising fuel prices and an EU draft plan to ban weighted nets that sweep the seabed turned into a violent confrontation as groups protesting the retirement reform joined in. Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse rioters burning garbage and throwing flares. At one point, protesters drove a tractor into the mayhem.