Macron speaks: French leader aims to calm pension storm

By AP News

French opponents to an unpopular new law raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 have called for people to bang pots and pans across the country

France Macron Speaks

PARIS (AP) — French opponents to an unpopular new law raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 have called for people to bang pots and pans across France while President Emmanuel Macron will seek to diffuse tensions in a televised address to the nation.

Macron, who just enacted protest-igniting pension changes, is expected to provide details about his domestic policies in the coming months.

He hopes that it will help the country move away from the period of protests and strikes over the retirement age that threatens the ambitions of his remaining four years in power.

The evening address kicks off a likely arduous battle for the second-term president to repair the damage done to his public image and politics by forcing the pension plan through parliament last month.

Opponents of the unpopular pension plan called for people to gather in front of city halls to make loud noises during the address, with the rallying cry: “Macron won’t listen to us? We won’t listen to him!”

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Saturday that the government would move ahead with more reforms now that the pension law has been enacted. “In the coming weeks and months ... we are determined to accelerate," she told the national council of Macron’s Renaissance party.

The government has notably started working on a bill meant to improve employees’ working conditions and bringing the unemployment rate down to around 5% — one of Macron’s commitments. France unemployment rate recently reached 7.2%, its lowest rate since 2008.

Weakened in parliament, where his centrist alliance lost its absolute majority in legislative elections last year, Macron's government needs to get support from lawmakers from diverse political forces to push ahead with his program. That's likely to be an uphill task in the uproarious climate of protest sparked by his retirement changes that pick at France's cherished social safety net.

Borne said Saturday she was “convinced” it was still “possible” to pass bills at parliament by negotiating with lawmakers from the left and the right on a case by case basis.

Labor unions that have been at the forefront of protests, mobilizing millions of marchers in 12 days of nationwide demonstrations and strikes since January, are vowing to fight on. They called for another mass protest on May 1, which is International Workers’ Day.

The pension changes were enacted into law Saturday, the day after the country’s constitutional body rejected some parts of the legislation but approved the higher minimum retirement age.

That key change — central to Macron’s plan and the focus of opponents’ protests — was intended to be a showcase measure of Macron’s second term. But it has come at significant cost to the French president: opinion polls show his popularity has plunged to its lowest level in four years.

His government argued that requiring people to work two years more before qualifying for a pension was needed to keep the pension system afloat as the population ages. Opponents proposed raising taxes on the wealthy or employers instead.


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