Europe watches as social pressure mounts on Macron over his pension reform

The second day of strikes and protests sent more than a million people onto the French streets. The government has advanced that it will not give in on its decision to advance on the pension reform. (BENOIT TESSIER/)

“A growing number of protesters, that does not change the situation,” a minister from the French national cabinet was quick to assess when he was running the second protest against the pension reform on Tuesday.

Despite the massive call throughout Francethe government of Emmanuel Macron clings to the idea of ​​not giving up on his intention to get his text approved, an initiative that has been debated in the National Assembly.

Schools, public transport, power plants, refineries, the main French union sectors, together with thousands of dissatisfied with the presidential project, promised a blocked country before allowing the initiative to change the withdrawal rules to get the green light in the legislative body.

On the occasion of a new day of strikes and demonstrations against this project, the trade unionists warned from the start of the call that the mobilization was greater than that of January 19. Between 1,272 million -according to the authorities of the Ministry of the Interior – and 2.8 million French -according to the unions- they marched to oppose the reform that provides, in particular, for the postponement of the legal retirement age to 64 years. In Paris, there were 150,000 demonstrators according to the Police Prefecture while the CGT, on behalf of the inter-union, counted 500,000.

For this second call, the data is incontrovertible. More of 200 massive calls Throughout the hexagon they sought to confirm that the opposition to the government initiative is growing. Polls published in the main French media indicate that at least 6 out of 10 French people oppose Macron’s great reform. Another feature of a day, with some critical points, was that experienced demonstrators came across young people, who even without being in the world of work, feel that this initiative jeopardizes their future.

But the magnitude of the anger is not just a question in France. Europe pays close attention to the rehearsal that hovers over the Parisian atmosphere. The European government in Brussels he carefully studies the French government’s attempt, when he also observes what might happen with a similar reform that the executive branch must undertake in Spain.

Unions in France announce new days of strikes and protests in key sectors such as energy, public transport, air transport and schools against the pension reform.  The fear of the government that a blockade will paralyze the country.
Unions in France announce new days of strikes and protests in key sectors such as energy, public transport, air transport and schools against the pension reform. The fear of the government that a blockade will paralyze the country. (BENOIT TESSIER/)

France is one of the European countries with the lowest ordinary retirement age, according to the latest data published by Eurostat. At the same time, its economy stands out for its low productivity compared to other northern European nations. The enormous regulations, labor laws that are not very dynamic, are making the productive fabric less permeable to investments. That is why the pulse of the advance of the reform exceeds the borders of the fifth Republic.

Longevity, a life expectancy that is projected favorably in most nations, is a challenge for the balance of pension systems. In this sense, France is positioned as the third country that allocates the most retirement funds in Europe, with 14.3% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), only behind Greece and Italy.

The forceful presence of the French in this new day puts Macron practically on a war footing with the dissatisfied. The tenant of the Elysee Palace He must face the dilemma of negotiating tweaks to his project, including the 64-year threshold for retirement, or declining the mother of all his battles if the country enters a virtual blockade.

In fact, the eight confederations (CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, Unsa, Solidaires and FSU)few times before united in front of the same flag, have advanced, shortly after the end of the protest, two new interprofessional mobilizations: the Tuesday February 7the following day the presentation of the text in session of the National Assembly– and the Saturday February 11.

“This second successful mobilization today demonstrates the deep anger sweeping the country. The government still does not want to listen to it and withdraw its reform, so we are intensifying the demonstrations,” he says. Frederic Souillotgeneral secretary of Labor Force (FO).

Although there was no express balance made public, the government leadership does not want to be moved by the figures of the day. The important demonstration so far has not made Macron’s cabinet waver, which, far from the microphones, let it be known that points to the drop in strikes, despite a greater number of mobilized.

The presence of people was not followed by a greater cessation of activities to the call of January 19. The country was by no means blocked, said official officials, who at the same time recognized that the presence of attendees increased throughout the country. “This will not make us go back”, the Executive thus expressed its belief in the progress of its reform despite the strong mobilization.

Now it is Parliament’s turn, insists the ruling party. The Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne on Tuesday night, stressed the importance of the political debate in a message on Twitter: “The pension reform raises questions and doubts. We listen to you. The parliamentary debate opens. It will allow, in transparency, to enrich our project with one objective: to ensure the future of our delivery system”.

Riot police intervened to prevent disturbances in some of the marches of this new day of strikes and protests.
Riot police intervened to prevent disturbances in some of the marches of this new day of strikes and protests. (Lewis Jolly/)

For the trade unionists, the government will not stop its momentum, unless it faces a blockade of the country. Many are closely watching the upcoming movements of “sensitive” sectors. In the refineries of Total Energieswhich last autumn partially blocked the country, the strikers stopped between 75% and 100% of the strikers, according to trade union sources. Some bet on a strike with a blockade of hydrocarbon workers and, in this way, generate discomfort in the economic activity of every country.

What is the government’s strategy? Loudly an influential adviser, according to the capital newspaper le parisienreflects that “we gamble breathlessly, with the risk that the movement will harden on the part of the most radical trade union fringe, or we look at what can be improved.”

Before changing his mind, he added: “To the extent that the protesters radically oppose the 64-year-old measure on which we will not budge, I hardly see a way out on this side. A minister insists: “You have to hold on to the heart of the reform, make adjustments and start discussions in large public companies to deflate the discontent”

Macron’s cabinet has a need: to achieve balance in the system, threatened by a deficit of up to 14,000 million from 2030 if the situation is not redirected. Under current legislation, the contribution period must be established at 43 years from 2035, but the Macron government wants to advance this calendar and require 43 years of contributions from 2027. All those people who have not contributed all this time will see their reduced pension.

The cards of the government and unionism are on the table. However, and as a last instance, the government has recourse to the constitutional weapon of the article 49.3 for the pension reform to be approved without legislative treatment, almost a decree, but in a move that would increase social anger.

As if that weren’t enough, Borne could also pull an item out of the Constitution which has never been used in the history of the fifth Republic: 47.1. The use of this provision, an unknown article of the Constitution, allows the government, after “a period of 20 days after the presentation of a bill”, to seize the Senate if the National Assembly has not finished examining the text within the established time.

This is equivalent to the legislators of the High camera can exercise control over the reform, instead of the deputies. Very good news for the executive since the Luxembourg Palacewith a right-wing majority, would hold the key to approval.

In all cases, the future of the second five-year period of Emmanuel Macron’s government is in tension. With this reform, his prestige as a leader who has come to transform a France reluctant to change and who suspects that each project further erodes the guarantees of a welfare state in a certain state of “corrosion” goes.

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