Opinion: Macron is pulling France’s retirement age out of the 17th century

Editor’s Note: David A. AndelmanCNN contributor, two-time Deadline Club Award winner, knight of the French Legion of Honor, author of “Red Lines in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Possible Wars” and blog at Andelman Unleashed. He was previously a correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Europe and Asia. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. see more opinion at CNN.


The last time President Emmanuel Macron tried to pull France’s antiquated pension and pension system from the 17th century into the 21st with one stretch, crowds flooded the streets of Paris, fire barrier headed up the Champs Elysées and Macron’s entire presidency was almost floundering in the face of “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests).

David A. Andelman

Now, four years later, trying again with a few tweaks of concessions, Macron doesn’t seem much likely to escape a different fate. On Tuesday, the French government announced the plan raised the official retirement age from 62 to 64 to qualify for full pension.

The backlash from unions was swift. The first nationwide protest strike has been set for January 19.

But Macron is a resolute man. The French budget is in danger of being confused with pensions draining almost all of them 14% Country GDP per year – approx twice drain than in the United States and second only to Italy and Greece in Europe.

In announcing the plan, the Macron government pointed out that without some reforms, the national budget risks accumulating almost entirely. 20 billion USD annual deficit by 2030. “If not, we will finance our retirement system with credit,” said Macron. speak.

The French have long been fiercely protective of their labor rights in the face of government reforms. In the 1980s, when I lived in Rue de Solférino, across from the headquarters of the ruling Socialist Party, farmers dumped truckloads of carrots to protest against agricultural reform. More recently, they have parade of sheep and pigs took to the streets of Paris to protest the rising cost of agriculture.

Given the stubbornness of the French public, the question is whether Macron’s determination and appeal to rational economics will suffice. And what model could a second Macron failure pose for the rest of the world? If France cannot reform, how can other countries, weighed down by rapidly aging populations and fragile economies, manage?

Currently, all men and women in France can retire with full pension at the age of 62 – tied with Sweden and Norway for the lowest retirement age in Western Europe. Macron wants to raise that age to just two years (still lower than the US and UK, where the retirement age is in the 66 and 67, depending on the year of birth).

But there are special exemptions that date back to the time of Louis XIV. After 10 years of performing on stage, the actors of the Comédie Française – the French classical theater founded by the great playwright Molière – are entitled to claim a lifetime pension. This dates back to the founding of the company in 1680.

Dancers in the Paris Opera can retire with full pensions at 42 years old, a custom that dates back to 1689, when Louis XIV was anxious to found an opera and ballet company that would make Europe envious. Stage workers at both companies can still retire at 57. Then there are train drivers who can bow at 57. 52 years old.

Although life expectancy has changed dramatically over the centuries, pensions have not. At France, longevity in the mid-18th century was just 25 years, increasing from 60 to 70 by the end of the Second World War. These days, life expectancy in France is slightly more than 79 for men and 85 for women. But retirement age has completely failed to keep up.

Of all, there are at least 42 different pension schemes, most of them were consolidated into law during the tumultuous times at the end of the Second World War. And there is still a group of eight union federations – more than in Germany, Italy and the UK combine. Now, Macron is proposing to remove all special offers for everyone, from metro drivers to tellers in the Banque de France.

They will all come under a single national retirement umbrella. And 64 will be the age where the uniform minimum pension is a little over 1,300 Euros ($1,400) a month. However, some old rules were too deeply embedded to deal with. new system will not apply to the Paris Opera, the Comédie Française, nor the fisherman, the lawyer, or the “freelance” (doctor, dentist, and architect, among others).

For others, however, unions are taking up arms. France’s leading unions have political and social power far beyond anything their American counterparts wield. At the same time, institutionally, Macron is less likely to be persuasive than President Joe Biden had when he called on Congress to act last month to prevent a catastrophic rail attack that threatens to paralyze transportation and commerce of the United States.

With the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic clearly behind, and victory in a second term within reach (though his congressional majority has dwindled to a rebellious majority) Macron clearly feels now is the time to implement the reforms he has always dreamed of.

He will have a battle on his hands. France’s nationwide yellow vest protests four years ago were marred by soaring fuel prices, but quickly turned into complaints against a much broader agenda. In particular, inflation fueled by gas prices has hit the pockets of retirees heavily. The third rail of French politics has long been pensions and retirement. Usually, the French live quite simply to stop working.

“We must be able to face reality and find solutions in order to preserve our social model,” said French Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne as she announced what the authorities are seeing as a satisfactory measure. union. During last year’s re-election campaign, Macron floating retirement age is 65. He hopes that a year off this number might make it at least a little more bearable. The unlucky, the unfortunate.

“Nothing justifies such a brutal reform,” said Laurent Berger, leader of the moderate CFDT union, told reporters after the reform plan was revealed. That’s one way to look at it. But in reality, the retirement age will be gradually increased in fairly gentle stages – only increasing by three months per year and not reaching 64 years of age until 2030.

None of this can silence union leaders, who have any number of key allies in France’s vast political sphere – they all see retirement as a way to evade Macron’s second and final five-year term.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, whom Macron defeated in the presidential election last April, said: “The French can count on our determination to stop this unfair reform. At the other end of the spectrum, Mathilde Panot, from the far-left France Insoumise party tweeted that the plan was “archaic, unfair, brutal, cruel.”

Now, however, the battle is on. Those are some of the models for America and its associations in launching a new Congress that cares about the budget. Not to mention a European Union is ready on the brink of a recession.


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