Macron Government Pushes Pension Reform as Opposition Mounts

Macron Government Pushes Pension Reform as Opposition Mounts(Bloomberg) — French President Emmanuel Macron signaled willingness to “improve” his pension reform plan on Wednesday in an effort to end a standoff with unions that showed no sign of abating.Strikes that have gummed up the public transportation system, leaving millions to work out alternative ways of getting around, enter their third week on Thursday, with a fresh poll showing that support for the protests is growing.Union leaders met with French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Wednesday, with some remaining unconvinced ahead of further multilateral talks planned on Thursday. The head of the far-left CGT union, Philippe Martinez, repeated demands for Macron to abandon his pension plan following what he described as a 10-minute meeting with Philippe.“The longer the strike goes on, the more anger transforms itself into something else,” Martinez told reporters. “They can’t afford to hang about because the situation is complicated for them.”The government is seeking a truce during the holiday period to enable people to travel over Christmas but a group of unions including the CGT has called for further strikes and demonstrations through the end of the year unless Macron backs down.While Macron’s government has barreled through reforms of tax and labor laws, the current gridlock shows how deeply the French are wedded to their pension system. Reforming it is the crown jewel of Macron’s effort to modernize the country by merging 42 separate pension regimes into one universal points-based system and offering incentives to push back the age when workers retire to 64 from 62 in 2027.Macron won’t abandon the reforms, although he is open to improvements, government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said Wednesday. That’s notably around the retirement age, which the CFDT union — the country’s largest — has called a red line. The government has said it is open to propositions that still guarantee balanced accounts in 2027.Two polls published on Wednesday showed the popularity of Macron and Philippe has taken a knock during the protests, support for which is stable at 54%. Public opposition to the reforms has jumped eight points to 57%.“The French people are in favor of getting rid of special regimes, are divided on the creation of a points system, but are increasingly opposed to” raising the full-pension age to 64, pollster Elabe said.Of those interviewed, 49% want the government to carry out extensive changes to the government’s reform plan, while 26% want it to remain unchanged and 24% want it to be scrapped. For 46%, Macron and the government are responsible for the protests.Union DemonstrationsA third round of demonstrations and protest marches on Tuesday drew 615,000 people across the country, according to Interior Ministry figures, while the CGT union that has led the anti-reform movement counted 1.8 million, Agence France-Presse reported.“This doesn’t call into question the government’s determination to do this reform, which is a reform for all of the French,” Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, junior minister for transportation, said in an interview on CNews television on Wednesday. “There were fewer people in the streets yesterday than on Dec. 5.”The first march on Dec. 5, drew more than 800,000 people, the biggest turnout since Macron took office in May 2017. The second march on Dec. 10 had fewer than half that, according to the Interior Ministry.‘We’ll Be Back’Macron’s administration has said it could agree to roll back some aspects of the plan, but it promised to end the special status of many public service workers, from metro drivers to Paris Opera dancers.CFDT head Laurent Berger said Tuesday that his union, and seen as the most likely to embrace a reform, was ready to continue strikes in the new year if the government didn’t scrap plans to raise the full retirement age to 64. He reiterated that he supports a universal points-based pension system.Read more: Team Macron Ready to Ride Out Anything French Unions Throw at ItTransport HavocThe strikes are creating havoc for workers commuting on public transportation — mostly in and around Paris — and leading to hundreds of miles of traffic jams around the French capital.France’s Insee statistics agency said the protests would have a limited impact on economic growth, especially if unions suspend their action during the holiday season.Yet the strikes are fraying the nerves of commuters having to squeeze into the few trains and buses still running or sitting in miles of traffic jams.(Adds union comments, opinion polls)\–With assistance from William Horobin, Rudy Ruitenberg and Angeline Benoit.To contact the reporters on this story: Helene Fouquet in Paris at hfouquet1@bloomberg.net;James Regan in Paris at jregan65@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, ;Geraldine Amiel at gamiel@bloomberg.net, Vidya RootFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.



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