Home Personal Finance France pension protests explained: France is still mad — but can the protests last?

France pension protests explained: France is still mad — but can the protests last?

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Paris (CNN) Clashes erupted in Paris on Monday, which marks May 1, the traditional day for trade union-led marches, following highly unpopular changes to France’s pension system signed last month.

Fierce fighting broke out between protesters and riot police as a building caught fire in the French capital, Place de la Nation.

About 112,000 people took part in Monday’s protests in the French capital, according to Paris police. According to CNN affiliate BFMTV, it was the second-highest voter turnout since protests against pension reform began this year.

A CNN team at the scene reported chaotic scenes at the protests, with fireworks and other projectiles being thrown at police who responded with tear gas as they retreated and regrouped. I witnessed

The building that caught fire at the end of the protests, Place de la Nation, has been contained. Police said two of his fuel containers in front of the work site were set on fire by militants, which were later extinguished.

Tear gas suffocated the air in Place de la Nation.

Police charged demonstrators under the cover of water cannons and were confronted with fireworks and a barrage of stones torn from the square.

French trade union leaders attend a demonstration in Paris on May 1, 2023. The government introduced an unpopular pension reform bill to parliament.

A total of 291 people were detained across France, 90 of them in Paris, according to France’s Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin, who said police had warned of a heightened risk of violence ahead of the protests. .

More than 100 police officers were injured in May Day protests, he added. Among them were his 19 in Paris, one policeman was severely burned by Molotov’s cocktail.

Police monitored Monday’s demonstrations and violent clashes between security officials and protesters led to the arrest of dozens.

This comes after months of unrest and widespread strikes by one of France’s largest trade unions, the CGT, that saw transport halted and garbage piled up in the streets of Paris. It follows a call for historic protests.

France’s Constitutional Council, which acts like the U.S. Supreme Court, approved in April the most controversial part of the reform, raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Despite the decision, some of France’s powerful trade unions say they will continue to fight, faced with the question whether this anger will haunt the rest of Macron’s term or disappear from the streets. .

Here’s everything you need to know about pension reform.

Why is this such a big problem for the French?

Political scientist Dominique Moisi said that for the French, ‘it wasn’t about retirement age, it was about work-life balance’.

Pension reform has long been a thorny issue in France. In 1995, weeks of mass protests forced the then-government to abandon plans to reform the public pension system. In 2010, millions of people took to the streets to oppose lowering her retirement age by two years to her 62.

“Every time there is public opposition, a little bit of the project is approved and the public basically gives in,” said Pascal Perrineau of the University of Poe.

For many in France, the pension system, like social support more generally, is seen as a cornerstone of state responsibility and civic relations.

The post-World War II social system, in a country in which the state has played an active role in ensuring a certain standard of living, has since enshrined the carefully guarded right to state-funded pensions and health care. guaranteed.

The way Macron bypassed parliamentary votes to push for these reforms has raised tensions as much as their content and focused anger on the president himself.

“I don’t think we have ever seen so much anger and hatred towards a president in the history of the Fifth Republic. As a young student, I was in the streets of Paris in May 1968. There was a time when I rejected General de Gaulle, but it wasn’t a personal hatred,” Moisi said.

Why is Macron sticking to this despite it being unpopular?

Macron is above all a business-oriented president. Making France more business-friendly and government more efficient is central to his mission.

The young president has made social reforms, especially the pension system, which has become a mainstay of his 2022 re-election campaign.

The problem for Macron’s cabinet is money. The government says the current system of relying on the working population to keep up with an increasing age group of retirees is no longer fit for purpose.

Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt said the pension deficit could reach more than $13 billion annually by 2027 unless urgent action is taken. Dusopt, referring to opponents of reform on his BFMTV for CNN bureau, said: ? ”

It is worth noting that France is still below the norm in Europe and many other developed countries due to its higher pension age.

Public pensions in France are also more generous than in other countries. At around 14% of GDP in 2018, the country spent more on public pensions than most other countries, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

what happens next?

The Constitutional Council’s decision means reforms are on the way.

From September, the first retirees will have to wait another three months to receive their public pension. With regular and gradual increases, her retirement age will reach 64 by 2030.

Protesters don’t give in. “We will fight until this reform is abandoned,” one person told journalists shortly after the decision.

From January to mid-April, despite sporadic violence, support for the protests increased by about 11 percent, according to figures from IFOP, a pollster affiliated with Fiducial/Sud Radio.

Protesters stormed the headquarters of luxury giant LVMH last month.

in contrast, yellow vest protest, the violence that began against fuel price hikes gradually lost public support. That these pension protests continue to hold public goodwill is an ominous sign for Macron’s future plans.

Pension protests surged in size and violence when President Macron forced the bill through the House of Commons without a vote. For now, with this law passed, momentum may have turned away from mass street protests, even if flare-ups continue.

But if the majority of voters don’t put Mr Macron as their first choice,, The May 1 march will be a barometer of that outrage, filmmaker David Dufresne, who directed a documentary about the yellow vest protests, told CNN.

“Street democracy is back again,” he said.

Where will Macron go with this?

Macron, who was re-elected in 2022, is just entering his second term and still has four years left in his term as the country’s leader. French presidents have fixed terms, so his position is secure.

After the passage of reforms, his government launched a number of policies that promised additional funding for public services – including salaries for nurses and teachers. The horse may have already jumped.

Still far from political horizons as we head into the next presidential election in 2027, the outrage that President Macron has stirred in the country’s streets does not bode well for his party’s chances.

Labor unions have led these protests, but opposition politicians, political allies and even some of his party have come out in support of the demonstrators.

President Macron pushed through with his plan despite fierce opposition.

Far-right Marine Le Pen faces Macron’s candidate for re-election in 2024, but this public outrage has been suspended by voters who backed Macron just to sabotage the far-right. It may be enough to give

“He failed to sell his logic and rationality,” Moisi said, comparing Macron to Barack Obama.

Macron’s reform campaign continues, but the pension controversy could ultimately force him to negotiate more, Perrineau warns, but the French president is not known for compromises. pointed out.

Perrineau said he tends to be “a little arrogant, a little impatient”, which can make political negotiations difficult.

That’s “probably the limit of macronism,” he added.

CNN’s Pierre Bairin and Chris Liakos contributed to the report.

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