1 of 2 | French President Emmanuel Macron has made some concessions to pass pension reform in the country, including a guarantee that all workers will begin receiving a pension of at least $1,288, which was a major demand of parliament's new Republican majority. File photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 10 (UPI) -- French President Emmanuel Macron is moving forward with sweeping reforms to the country's longstanding pension law that would raise the age at which people can retire with benefits -- an unpopular and politically risky move that was expected to spark a showdown with several trade unions.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne planned to lay out the controversial proposals to raise the legal retirement age from 62 -- when most French workers typically stop working -- to either 64 or 65 years old.
Further complicating the issue, people who serve in public service roles like police and jail guards can now receive full pensions beginning at age 52, but under Macron's newest plan will have to work several additional years to receive their full benefits.
To sweeten the overhaul deal, the French president has made some concessions, including a guarantee that all workers will begin receiving a pension of at least $1,288, which was a major demand from the opposition party.
Since taking office in 2017, Macron has pushed pension reform as one of the country's most important pursuits, but the effort has been stalled since 2020 due to the economic fallout of the pandemic.
Now that global commerce has reemerged, Macron appears determined to deliver on one of his most contentious campaign pledges that would require French workers to adjust their retirement plans in order to mitigate an exorbitant pension budget.
"As I promised to you, this year will be the year of reform to the pension system which aims to balance our system for the years and decades to come. We need to work more," he said during his New Year's Eve address to the country.
Macron said the change would put France's retirement policies on the same tier as Spain and Germany, where the legal age to retire is 65 and 67, respectively.
Macron said his plan would also help to shore up the nation's economy amid an ongoing inflation crisis. His proposal comes after several other government relief measures were phased out in December, leaving many without any financial safety net for the remainder of winter.
Some have expressed fear the proposal could trigger widespread protests amid the tenuous economic landscape fraught with discontent over persistent inflation and high energy bills.
Three years ago, French riot police clashed with protesters during a demonstration against pension reforms in Paris after unions representing transport and other public sector workers called for a general strike to protest the reform.
More recently, tens of thousands took to the streets in Paris back in October to protest rising inflation, which coincided with strikes by workers demanding higher wages.
"It's difficult to demonstrate against inflation, you can't ask Putin to bring the price of gas down. But if the (pension) reform starts to crystalize tensions, people may feel they can score a slim victory by getting the government to give up on the reform," said Bruno Jeanbart, vice-president of the OpinionWay polling institute, according to Politico.
Trade unions were already gearing up to hold strikes across the country after recent discussions with the government failed to produce any accords on the matter.
The state pension proposal also faces an uphill battle in France's National Assembly, where Macron's Renaissance Party no longer holds a majority after last June's parliamentary elections.
The president would need to win considerable support from the new conservative majority to fulfill the reforms, but such a scenario was plausible since Macron's administration has pushed through several other reform bills with help from Republicans.
However, some conservative lawmakers were not as optimistic about Macron's chances this time around.
"It's not the same type of reform. What has been done so far, the deals on bills, it's nothing, it's peanuts. The pensions bill... that's a real moment of truth," said conservative MP Pierre-Henri Dumont.
In preliminary discussions held over recent months, the opposition party was said to be split on the issue, although majority leader Eric Ciotti said previously that he could support the measure if the retirement age was set at 64, and if all workers received a minimum pension of 1,200 euros.
The outcome on pension reform holds deep implications for Macron's other priorities and stands to impact his overall ability to govern during the remaining years of his second term. There is a chance that Macron could become a lame-duck president if the measure fails.
However, the nation has become deeply familiar with Macron's reform-minded ambition and his penchant for shaking up existing policies.
Previous French presidents have tried, but mostly failed, to achieve the type of sweeping pension reforms that Macron is currently undertaking.
"I understand people who are worried about changes to the retirement age, but it's a topic that we now embody, that the president has campaigned on," said Marie Lebec, an MP from Macron's Renaissance party, according to Politico. "We have to show that we can get legislation done, that'll reinforce the credibility of the government and of the president."
If the legislation fails, Macron could invoke article 49.3 of the French constitution to bypass parliament, but doing so would risk a no-confidence vote that could ultimately result in his removal from office.