FRANCE: MACRON FEELING THE HEAT


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The longest strike in France since 1986 is now over a month long and shows no signs of losing strength.
On New Year’s Eve, French President Emmanuel Macron made a plea for compromise to unions in their negotiations with the government over proposed changes in the country’s pension system.
The response to the speech by trade union leader Philippe Martinez echoed much of the anger of French unions in general:
“What has he [Macron] said that was new about this famous social reform? Nothing. I have heard this speech 1000 times before. We have the impression that the President of the Republic has closed himself within his own bubble.”
With negotiations between the government and the unions continuing last week, Bruno Le Maire, France’s Finance Minister, stated that “a compromise has never been so close” and that the government is “not inflexible.”
While there has been some freeing up of train and bus services since the country-wide protests began last month, many Metro lines are still shut down, though most of the national rail service is still in operation.
The continuing strike surrounds Macron’s bid to unify the country’s 40-plus pension plans into one, which would have the immediate effect of raising the age of retirement for many workers.
While Macron claims the proposed changes will create a fairer and more financially sustainable system, opponents see the move as a way to reduce benefits to millions of French workers.
France currently has a pension system that offers nearly 70 percent of a worker’s income, one of the highest ratios in the European Union, and it has created an economic environment with one of the lowest risk of poverty among citizens 65 years and older.
These benefits cost the government about 14 percent of its GDP, among the highest in Europe.
As the sixth week of wide protests and crippling transport strikes continued, over the weekend President Macron backed down from his policy to extend France’s retirement age from 62 to 64.
Macron did not fully commit to withdraw the retirement age in the future, pointing to a report on the financial health of the pension system due to come out in the next few months.
The unions most heavily represented in the strikes, however, rejected Macron’s offer, demanding he abandon his entire pension reform plan.
Despite Macron’s concession, an estimated million people took to the streets across France. Police fired tear gas as some protesters continued to damage store windows and vandalize bus and metro stations in Paris.
The unions maintain they are committed to continuing their pressure on the government until their demands are met.

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