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French Pension Reform Plan Sparks Nationwide Protests

The French government has decided to pass the controversial pension reform bill without a parliamentary vote. The move came moments before the scheduled parliamentary vote, due to concerns that the government would not get enough support from the opposition to win a majority. Eventually, it had to invoke Article 49:3 of the French constitution, empowering itself it to bypass the vote and implement the bill anyway.

This decision sparked outrage among opposition politicians, who responded by jeering the prime minister, Elizabeth Borne who announced the change. They sang the anthem ‘La Marseillaise’, and held up protest signs during the parliamentary session.

The announcement also sparked protests, with an angry crowd gathering at the Place de la Concorde, across the river from the National Assembly. There is also talk of a no-confidence motion against President Emmanuel Macron for acting like a “dictator” to enforce this bill somehow.

Why the French are Protesting Against this Pension Reform Bill?

Heavy political debate and strikes have been going on for over 2 months in resistance to the French government’s plans to change how its pension system works. The approved bill changes the retirement age from 62 to 64 to be eligible for a pension. The government believes this step is necessary, but several citizens including economists have expressed their disagreement.

There are varying opinions on whether the government should have handled this case better. Some believe that the pension age should be higher due to the decreasing ratio of workers to pensioners, while others reckon that increasing the minimum pension would encourage more older people to join the workforce, thus fostering economic growth.

Critics also raise questions about the motives of the Macron administration. They accuse the ruling party of balancing the budget and dismantling the social model, and that the plans would disproportionately impact the working class.

The disagreement among economists has resulted in slow support for the reform, with many noting that the issue ultimately boils down to the kind of society the French people want to live in. Furthermore, the French have a deep historical connection to work and retirement and are not willing to give up their right to retire easily, as demonstrated by the planned demonstrations and strikes.

Why is Government Pushing the Change?

The French government has argued that the proposed reforms are necessary to safeguard the country’s pay-as-you-go pension system, which relies on workers’ contributions. “The declining ratio of workers to pensioners is a threat to our system. With this project, we will secure the future of our retirement model,” stated Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne in mid-January, addressing the Senate.

Unlike some other European nations, France’s pension system does not have any capital-funded aspects. It comprises a general scheme for private-sector employees, one for public servants, and 27 specific pension plans for groups such as ballet dancers or police officers, which allow for earlier retirement.

The government’s goal is to increase the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 years by 2030 and require people to work for 43 years, up from the current 42, to receive a full-rate pension starting in 2027.

Emmanuel Macron’s plans would preserve early retirement for those who started working early and certain special pension schemes, while others, such as those for Parisian metro drivers, would be cut. The minimum pension would also rise to approximately €1,200 per month, a €100 ($108) increase.

Money is the main impetus behind Macron’s proposal. The reform is based on a report by a committee of experts appointed by the government, which predicts that pension payments will account for up to 14.7% of GDP in 2032, up from the current 13.8%.

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