STUMP » Articles » French Pension Protests: Macron Backs Down on Retirement Age and Protests Continue » 19 January 2020, 16:50

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French Pension Protests: Macron Backs Down on Retirement Age and Protests Continue  

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19 January 2020, 16:50

I’ve had this sucker in draft for days.

I decided to pull the trigger because of this:

Independent UK: Emmanuel Macron evacuated from theatre as protesters try to find him

Emmanuel Macron was evacuated from a Parisian theatre as dozens of demonstrators tried to get inside the building to find him.

Critics of the French president’s pension reforms assembled at the Bouffes du Nord theatre on Friday evening where Mr Macron was seeing a play with his wife Brigitte Macron.

Protesters overrode police efforts to block them going into the building and managed to storm inside as they chanted “Macron, resign!” and “We are here, even if Macron does not want us, we are here”.

If protesters are chasing Macron into the theater, then maybe we need to catch up with what’s going on in France.

NEW YEARS SPEECH LANDS WITH A THUD

In my last post on the French pension protests, I mentioned I got that out because Macron was going to give a New Years speech addressing the issue.

The speech impressed exactly nobody: (except Macron himself, I guess)

Emmanuel Macron was labelled arrogant, self-satisfied and out of touch with reality by critics as he vowed to push through controversial changes to France’s pension system in the face of calls for more widespread strikes across the country.

In his New Year’s Eve address, the president urged his centrist government to find a “rapid compromise” to end the protests that have run for four weeks and have disrupted transport networks.

However, he sounded a more steely note by declaring the pension reforms “will be carried out”.

Yeah, that sounds like a compromise to me.

Macron Tries To Calm Tensions Over Pension Reform Plan:

MACRON: (Through interpreter) I know that some are afraid of changes, but is this a reason to abandon what we’ve started? No, because it’s our children who will pay the price. This is why I will complete this reform of our pension system. It is a project of justice and social progress. It ensures that our system is more equal and universal.

I happen to agree with Macron. But I’m not French, and this is not my decision to make. And, ultimately, it’s not Macron’s, either.

BEARDSLEY: But the unions say Macron’s plan will penalize those with physically demanding jobs by making them work longer. Macron wants to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. This morning, Philippe Martinez, head of the hard-line CGT union, called on the French to strike and protest even harder.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PHILIPPE MARTINEZ: (Through interpreter) Faced with a president who does such an exercise in self-satisfaction and who considers that everything is going well in this country, we need to sound the alarm even louder because he obviously hasn’t understood that there is a problem.

….

BEARDSLEY: At this New Year’s Eve dinner, everyone gathered to watch Macron’s speech. No one here understands the pension overhaul. Retired schoolteacher Francoise Lefebvre (ph) believes it will force people to work longer for less, and she wants the strikers to continue.

I highlighted the particular line, because this was the biggest failure of Macron’s proposal. It’s not merely that it is complicated, and people don’t trust it — it’s that it’s complicated and Macron spent little time explaining and persuading people on the specific proposal.

There are parts that are very simple, such as increasing the retirement age, and people understand that just fine. Many of the people understand quite clearly that the benefits will be cut compared to the original expectations. And for some groups, the cuts would be quite a lot.

That’s why they were out there protesting. People understand when you’re taking something valuable away from them, whether they truly earned it or not.

But wait! What’s this?

MACRON BACKS DOWN ON RETIREMENT AGE PROPOSAL

After Macron’s New Year speech, the protests continued.

So he decided to back down on the easy-to-understand part.

NY Times: Macron Scraps Proposal to Raise Retirement Age in France

Faced with an unrelenting protest over proposed changes in France’s generous pension system, officials withdraw a move to raise the full-benefit retirement age to 64 from the present 62.

PARIS — With tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators once again coursing through the streets of Paris and other cities and clouds of tear gas and smashed store windows punctuating the urban landscape, the French government made a major concession on Saturday to unions protesting its pension reform plan.

It agreed to scrap, for now at least, a proposal to raise the full-benefits retirement age from 62 to 64. Unlike in the United States, the French government plays a huge role in the retirement plans of individuals in France, both as a source of funds and as overseer and guarantor of the pension system.

The raised age had infuriated moderate unions that the government of President Emmanuel Macron badly needs on its side. Mr. Macron has insisted the French need to work longer to strengthen a generous retirement system that is one of the world’s most generous but may be heading toward a $19 billion deficit.
On Saturday, with a crippling transport strike already in its sixth week, Mr. Macron’s government backed down, announcing that it would “withdraw” the new age limit, and put off decisions on financing the system until it gets a report on the money problem “between now and the end of April.”

But the government did not entirely rule out the idea of reintroducing a new retirement age if funding solutions to the pensions deficit are not reached.

If you were wondering if the French were shorter-lived than Americans or Germans or the English…

Life expectancy from age 65 by country, from 2011:

France is on the top.

Mmmhmmm.

PROTESTS CONTINUE

So after that back down…. the protests have continued.

[more on Elizabeth’s piece at the bottom of this post]

Rather than quote them all, I will just link to a bunch of the stories on the protests:

The last two items might be the best to read to think about the political issues.

I will come back to that at the end.

And have a few tweets:

That’s enough, I think.

NO WAY OUT?

So I’ve been trying to figure out what happens next. Because the natter from Macron et. al. has been “Fine, we’ll recapitulate, kinda, on the one thing people understand. But keep on keepin on with the rest, which is also unpopular because nobody trusts it.”

French PM says transport strikes against pension reform will go nowhere

Tee hee. Tee hee.

Wait, that wasn’t supposed to be a joke? Well, let’s look.

PARIS (Reuters) – French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Wednesday that public transport unions’ strikes will not succeed in stopping the government’s planned reform of the pension system.

“The transport strike against pension reform will go nowhere, the government is determined,” Philippe said in a speech.

Workers and national railway SNCF and Paris metro RATP have been on strike since Dec. 5, severely disrupting transport in the longest transport strike in decades.

That seems to be an extremely foolish thing to say in the country of revolutions.

But let us consider:

1. Macron stood down on the easiest-to-understand part of the reform…and it’s no big deal — the minimum retirement age for Social Security in the U.S. is also 62… but with increasing “normal” retirement age, the benefits keep getting adjusted downward. So sure, he could allow for a lower minimum retirement age, and keep cutting benefits. Nobody is fooled.

2. If you tell people that there is no way IN A SUPPOSED REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY for them to have their desires heard or implemented… what do you think will happen? Sixth Republic, anybody?

Saying that the protests will have no effect will not stop the protests.

This has been tried in other countries, such as Greece, where they really didn’t have the money to continue on and were dependent on other countries (such as Germany) to bail them out. Protests in Greece didn’t much change the opinion of the folks in other countries providing that money.

But if the French people are willing to be taxed more to support the benefits to continue?

As I said in the prior post, let them pay for their own choices.

Elizabeth Bauer’s comments: Pension Strikes In France, Reform In The UK, And The Third-Rail-Ness Of Social Security Reform:

In France, it’s day 44 of a strike by trade unions opposing a Social Security reform which, despite some reporting suggesting it’s only government employees who are affected, will transform pension benefits for all workers in the country. In recent days, the government has proposed reducing the age for full pension eligibility from 66 to 64, and, as described at the Washington Post, “the worst of the transit strikes has ended, with train service by and large back up but at reduced capacity.

But, remarkably, the latest polling, released three days ago, shows little movement in public opinion since the strikes began on December 5th, as evidenced by the overall stability in support for the protests and strikes, here,

Elizabeth goes on to talk about potential for U.S. Social Security reform, but I don’t want to talk about that right now. Let’s keep the focus on France.

Again, I understand this point of view, BUT…. I am not French. This is not my country or culture that is in question, and if the people of France in bulk want a social security system that involves special carve-outs for specific professions… that’s no skin off my nose.

REALITY WINS, BUT PEOPLE NEED TO OWN IT

Sure, France probably can’t afford it. Not in a realistic way.

But again, it’s not for me to impose decisions on the French people.

Ultimately, though, any power Macron has comes from the people. He can’t impose a damn thing.

If the people don’t want that which he has barely tried to sell, tough shit.

Macron would do well to step back and reconsider.

I think a case can be made that all these special carve-outs are unsustainable and unfair to others in France. But what he has proposed to replace that which is already there… perhaps it’s too complicated and he needs to rethink that.

For now, I expect the protests and strikes to continue.

DEMOCRACY REQUIRES SELLING POLICY

Earlier in this post, I linked to a Christian Science Monitor piece, and perhaps it would be best for you to read that instead of my post.

Christian Science Monitor: French pension-reform strikes hide deeper issue – distrust of politics

Yet public support for the strikers’ battle to defend one of the most generous pension systems in the world remains strong. According to a poll published Sunday [Jan 12], 44% support or sympathize with the strike, outweighing the 37% who are opposed or hostile to it.

…..
“Mistrust is at the heart of this movement,” says Pascal Perrineau, a leading political analyst. “People are saying ‘no’ to everything. We are reaching a point where the level of distrust is making it very difficult for the government to govern.”

It’s not clear that the government is even trying to sell the idea. It certainly hasn’t done much to explain the proposal.

Why should people trust it? “We’ve figured it out, trust us” is not particularly settling of the mind, especially given the history of the French government.

Underlying that attitude is a deep mistrust of the establishment, revealed in the annual Political Trust Barometer. Last year’s survey found that 73% of the French had little or no trust in their elected representatives in parliament, and that 70% do not believe French democracy is working well.

Only 27% put any faith in trade unions, and a paltry 9% trust the country’s political parties. Those kinds of numbers explain why the Economist Intelligence Unit last year ranked the quality of democracy in France only 16th among 20 Western European nations.

I am sure the government has thoroughly earned the distrust of the people.

If those elected do not respond at all to the concern of the people who elected them… is it any wonder?


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