- The French Constitutional Court has approved President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plan to raise the pension age.
- The state will sign into law a hike in the retirement age to 64 from its current level of 62.
- Macron said the law was “necessary” for the country’s greater good – to avoid pension deficits forecast to hit 13.5 billion euros.
President Emmanuel Macron looks to have won his battle to push through widely unpopular pension reform, but many experts and historians believe he has deepened the gloom enveloping French democracy.
France’s constitutional court approved the core parts of Macron’s pension reform on Friday, paving the way for the centrist head of state to sign into law a hike in the retirement age to 64 from its current level of 62.
But how the legislation has been passed – in the face of opposition from two out of three voters, trade unions, and a majority of MPs in the National Assembly – has dismayed even previously sympathetic observers.
Pierre Rosanvallon, a highly respected sociologist and historian, issued a special warning in early April that Macron needed to restore the legitimacy of his presidential office in the eyes of voters.
“Without this, the time of revolutions could come back, or else there will be an accumulation of toxic disaffection which will open the way for far-right populism,” the centre-left thinker told Liberation newspaper.
Political historian Jean Garrigues also wrote that it was “all of our institutional foundations, all of our political figures which are discredited” by how the reform had been passed.
“The link between our citizens and their national representatives has been stretched further in this crisis, as it was during the Yellow Vests,” Garrigues wrote in Le Monde newspaper, referring to fierce anti-Macron protests in 2018.
Criticism has focused mainly on how the president’s minority government rammed the legislation through Parliament on 16 March without a vote.
The legal but controversial move came after other constitutional measures were used to keep parliamentary debate to a minimum, deepening the sense of outrage felt by protesters who have taken to the streets almost every week since January.
According to official statistics, the sometimes violent protests peaked at 1.28 million people on 7 March, the biggest in a generation.
“This protest movement will leave a mark in the history of our country, through its size and the new people who have joined in,” the leader of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, told reporters as he marched – for the 12th time since January – on Thursday.
He repeated his belief that the country faced a “democratic crisis.”
– ‘No crisis’ –
In his only media interview on the subject of pensions since his election to a second term last April, Macron conceded that he and his government had failed to win the battle for public opinion.
Asked if he had any regrets, he told the TF1 channel: “If I have any, it’s that we haven’t always succeeded in convincing people of the necessity of this reform, which I don’t take pleasure in.”
But he remained convinced that it was “necessary” and for the country’s greater good – to avoid pension deficits forecast to hit 13.5 billion euros by 203 and to bring the country into line with its EU neighbours.
Furthermore, he saw it as legitimate given that he had been re-elected on a platform that included the pension reform and a pledge to make France “work more” to pay for one of the most expensive welfare systems in the world.
Some allies warned him about the risks of hiking the retirement age during a cost-of-living crisis soon after Covid-19.