French pension reform: why the fierce opposition?

Despite mass protests, France's government is sticking to its goal of overhauling the pension system. The changes are indispensable for achieving a financially balanced system, Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said on Monday. A key measure of the reform is raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and the contribution period to 43 years. Europe's commentators voice scepticism.

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L'Humanité (FR) /

Puts women at a disadvantage

The planned pension reform will increase gender inequalities, criticises Alyssa Ahrabare, spokesperson for the feminist association Osez le féminisme !, in L'Humanité:

“Women's pensions are already 40 percent lower than those of men, and the reform will accentuate these inequalities. The extension of the contribution period to 43 years as of 2027 will penalise above all women who had to take a break to raise children. Even more of them will have to wait until they are 67 for the chance of a full pension. This is unacceptable! In France, the average pension among women is 1,145 euros gross compared to 1,924 euros for men. This gap is the result of two inequalities: in wages and in the duration of contributions.”

hvg (HU) /

Macron will have to make compromises

In view of the mass protests the government should prepare to make concessions, writes hvg:

“All eight major national trade union federations participated in the more or less peaceful demonstrations. The fact that the key element of the current reform, the age limit, affects most workers explains this unity. ... Both Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire stressed that the government is open to negotiations and amendments. The willingness to compromise is warranted based on the experience of the past three decades, because after all, Macron isn't the first to want to get the pension jungle sorted out.”

Le Courrier (CH) /

Protests with huge potential

For Le Courrier, France's president is getting the protests he deserves:

“His contempt for the people, which is also contempt for democracy, is now becoming apparent. ... Emmanuel Macron was elected only as a lesser evil to stop the far right and as a beneficiary of France's majority voting system. He now finds himself without a parliamentary majority. A big political blow-out cannot be ruled out. Who would benefit from this? ... In any case, the scale of the social movement on Thursday shows that the progressive camp has the potential to offer a credible alternative to the ghost ship of 'Macronie', which has nothing to offer but empty storytelling. That is no doubt the best news of the day.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

No reason to give in

Despite all the commotion the pension reform is already in the bag, Le Figaro believes:

“The government, which only has a relative majority in the National Assembly, should be able to count on the votes of most deputies of the conservative Les Républicains. Since the majority in the Senate is right-wing, the draft should also pass without difficulty. ... Moreover, there is nothing revolutionary about this reform... For various reasons - arduous work, long careers, etc. - 40 percent of the population will not be affected by the increase of the retirement age to 64. And better still, for the first time the new regime will take into account small pensions, which will be topped up. So the government has no reason to give in to intimidation from the street.”

El Español (ES) /

Someone has to explain the facts

El Español sees a European dimension to the issue:

“This is not just a French problem. ... A Europe of people who are pensioned off at 62 is unrealistic. No economy, no matter how efficient, can provide for an immense and growing mass of pensioners on the basis of the work of just under 33 percent of the population. ... Macron would do well to stand firm in the face of the protests, for the good of the French economy and to stop similar demands in other European countries. It is wishful thinking to believe that the pensions of an ageing population are sustainable without sacrificing the younger generations. Someone has to start talking to Europeans like adults.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Prelude to a lengthy showdown

Gazeta Wyborcza holds out little hope for a quick solution:

“Emmanuel Macron won the presidential elections and his party has a majority in parliament - although not an absolute majority. ... And so he takes the view that the French have largely endorsed the programme of the current government, including the changes to the pension system. ... The trade unions respond that not all those who voted for him voted for a change in the pension rules. ... Neither side seems willing to make concessions, so Thursday's demonstrations look set to usher in a tough and potentially lengthy showdown.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Not what the people elected him for

La Vanguardia sees tough times ahead for Macron:

“The protests yesterday were the first big test in Macron's second five-year term. The pension reform is one of his key measures for maintaining the intergenerational contract in France and increasing the lowest pensions. ... Although the French president has delegated the reform to his prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, he personally will hardly escape the political wear and tear. ... Macron forgets that many voted for him to stop the far-right Marine Le Pen, not because they were in favour of the pension reform.”