A Look at Why France Is Seething

Pride in pension system, Macron's broken promise inspire street protests
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 17, 2023 4:45 PM CDT
Macron's Plan to Change Retirement Age Hits a Nerve
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during the National Roundtable on Diplomacy at the foreign ministry in Paris on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

The pension changes being forced into law in France are doing more than raise the retirement age—they're testing the people's faith in government in more than one way. The pension system, including its current retirement age of 62, is a point of pride there. Every worker receives a government pension, per the Guardian, under the country's popular social protection model. To make that possible, current workers pay heavily to support retirees, and France devotes more spending to pensions overall than many wealthy nations. But the people see the system as worthy of a fair and just society and appreciate what leaders call a "solidarity between the generations."

But like many wealthy nations, France is dealing with declining birth rates and life expectancies longer than when the system was designed. Government data shows that if the retirement age is not raised, France would have just 1.2 taxpaying workers to support each retiree by 2070; the ratio was 1.7-1 in 2020, per the Washington Post. President Emmanuel Macron says that means changes have to be made. For decades, other presidents have implemented pension changes, which usually hurt them in elections and brought protesters into the streets. That's happened this time, too. Protests began months ago over the change to age 64 and resume Friday, per the AP, after Macron tried to push his plan through without a vote in the National Assembly.

There's another reason for the anger at Macron. After his reelection last year, he promised to govern in new—at least to him—ways, building consensus and changing his top-down style of rule. Macron suggested France's political polarization required reducing tension. His aspiration to follow "a new method" is not reflected in the decision to force pension changes into law, a Wall Street Journal analysis points out. And in his pro-business efforts, Macron has declared other changes, such as making it easier to fire workers and eliminating the wealth tax. A no-confidence vote, which rarely prevails in parliament, is planned for next week; it could at least force Macron to oust allies. "He wants to be inflexible, regardless of the cost," said a Paris professor. "Well, it turns out that the cost will be very high." (More France stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.