More than a million people protest France’s pension reform as Emmanuel Macron faces his defining moment

An Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found that 61 percent of respondents opposed Macron’s proposed reform on the grounds that it was unnecessary, poorly designed or ill-timed. But 81 percent admitted in a separate question that the system needs to be fixed.

Sofiane, a 49-year-old Amazon worker, told news channel France 24 he could not continue.

Demonstrators in front of a metro station in Paris.

Demonstrators in front of a metro station in Paris.Credit:Getty

“My colleagues and I discussed the reforms this morning. Everyone is disgusted. It depresses me. I’m 46 years old and I’m already having a hard time — so if I’ve got 20 years left…” he said.

“I get up at half past two. I load and unload packages for Amazon. Every day I handle between 10 and 15 boxes of packages. Each weighs 130 kilos. It is very physical work – and it has to be done quickly. So it’s stressful.”

Dominique, a 59-year-old retail executive in Paris, said the proposed changes were too much. “We have a lot of young people in this country looking for work; and I think they should be trained to fill the jobs of people retiring at 62.

“I’ve never protested or gone on strike in my life, but this time, if they ask me, I’ll do it. Because we are encountering something really unpleasant. If you ask too much of people, it just becomes unbearable for them,” she told France 24.

French President Emmanuel Macron met his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sánchez in Barcelona.

French President Emmanuel Macron met his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sánchez in Barcelona. Credit:AP

Macron has promised to address the issue since his first election in 2017. But he failed to find consensus on an earlier version of the proposal, which led to the country’s longest strike period since the 1968 uprising. This version was finally shelved when COVID-19 struck in 2020.

The second plan was part of his re-election program last year, with sweeteners such as raising the minimum pension to about €1,200 a month, from about €900 now, and concessions for older people who have physically demanding jobs.

But Macron, less than a year into a second and final five-year term, remains unpopular with an approval rating of just 36 percent. Its poor image outside of affluent cities contributed to the ‘yellow vest’ uprising four years ago and could potentially do so again.

And he raised eyebrows by spending the day in Barcelona, ​​where he was joined by 11 ministers for a Franco-Spanish summit.

During a press conference, he said the country must complete reform to “save” the pension system.

“We will do it with respect, in a spirit of dialogue, but also with determination and responsibility,” he said.

Due to increasing life expectancy in France, a retired pensioner today spends an average of 23.5 years in his armchair or gardening, while a French woman now lives 27 years after stopping work. As a result, the proportion of 55-64 year olds who are still working is just 57 percent, compared to 74 percent in Germany and 65 percent in the UK.

For Macron, who lost his parliamentary majority in June, it is now an all-or-nothing issue and must now secure the support of the opposition parties. His center alliance holds 250 seats – 39 fall short of the majority. But the Republicans, who have raised the retirement age themselves, do not want to give Macron an easy win.

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Buoyed by the numbers, the country’s leading unions now want a second day of strikes on January 31 to force the president and his government to back down.

Frédéric Souillot, general secretary of the Force Ouvrière union, said he wanted to “block the economy”.

“We are heading for a tough conflict,” he said.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne could be Macron’s secret weapon to gain the necessary support for the reform still to be debated in parliament.

“Four out of ten French people, the weakest, those with the most modest means, those with tough jobs, will be able to retire earlier [they are] 64 years old,” she said.

“Let’s continue to discuss and convince.”

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https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/more-than-a-million-take-to-french-streets-as-macron-faces-his-make-or-break-moment-20230120-p5ce50.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_world More than a million people protest France’s pension reform as Emmanuel Macron faces his defining moment

Callan Tansill

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