Macron says France pension overhaul was necessary, proposes new social pact

Paris, Apr 17 (EFE).- French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday night that a newly enacted pension overhaul that raised the retirement age from 62 to 64 was necessary to avoid a surge in deficit spending, but he also proposed a new “social pact” to improve conditions for workers.

In a televised address amid a political crisis triggered by the pension reform, Macron said there was no other viable response to a steady increase in the number of retirees and in the population’s life expectancy.

“Was this reform accepted? Obviously not. And despite months of consultations, no consensus could be found and I regret that,” the president said.

The deeply unpopular reform plan, enacted into law on Saturday, has been met by a series of nationwide strikes and protests – which sometimes turned violent after demonstrators clashed with police – since it was announced in January.

The reforms were pushed through in mid-March without a vote in the lower house of parliament after the government used special constitutional powers. Last Friday, France’s nine-member constitutional court approved the key elements of the overhaul, most importantly the provision that raises the legal age for drawing a full pension by two years.

Macron, who has been heavily criticized by trade unions and opposition parties for failing to listen to public sentiment, defiantly defended the pension reform in a televised interview last month in which he said his only mistake had been “not managing to convince” France of its necessity.

The government says the overhaul is needed to tackle France’s growing budget deficit, which is expected to reach 12.5 billion euros ($13.7 billion) by 2030.

During his speech, Macron also acknowledged public anger about jobs that pay too little relative to a growing cost of living.

“Some have the perception that they’re doing their part and not being fairly compensated,” he said.

In that regard, he said the anti-reform proposals contain a “demand for social justice and the renovation of democratic life” that must be heard, adding that the answer cannot be found in complacency nor in radicalism.

He therefore called for a new “social pact” involving business leaders and labor unions to discuss a series of important issues, including salaries, improved working conditions and wealth distribution.

“The door will always be open,” the head of state said.

In his much-anticipated address, which lasted just 13 minutes, Macron said fiscal discipline was key to France’s larger ambition to be free of the influence of foreign powers.

“One cannot declare its independence: It is built through ambitions, efforts at the national and European level, in terms of knowledge, research, attractiveness, technology, industry, defense. And it is also financed collectively through work,” the president said.

During his speech, Macron also announced a series of actions aimed at tackling climate challenges, as well as initiatives to fight crime and illegal immigration and promote more citizen participation in politics and the country’s institutions.

The French president also pledged measures to ensure all citizens “have the certainty” of a better future for their children, placing particular emphasis on the areas of health and education.

Coinciding with Macron’s Monday night address, people banged pots and pans in hundreds of different protests throughout France to express their displeasure with the overhaul.

Trade unions responded quickly to Macron’s speech, with the leader of France’s largest union, the CFDT’s Laurent Berger, saying the president’s remarks had done nothing to assuage the anger among the population.



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