France’s President Emmanuel Macron addressed his country on Wednesday after weeks of protests and strikes over a plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. During the much-anticipated interview, televised on TF1 and France 2, Macron stood firmly behind his government and the very much controversial retirement plan.
Pension reform to be enacted by year-end
Macron said his disputed pension overhaul was “necessary” to balance France’s pension system over the coming years amid shifting demographics.
“The longer we wait, the more it (the deficit) will deteriorate,” said the French president, whose government has failed to persuade the public – and indeed many economists – of the need for reform.
“This reform is necessary, it does not make me happy. I would have preferred not to do it,” he said, calling for the reform to come into force by the end of 2023.
Macron, whose support is highest among pensioners and older workers, said 1.8 million pensioners “will start seeing their pension increase by an average of 600 euros per year” as a result of the changes.
Condemnation of ‘violence’
While acknowledging “legitimate protests”, the French president promised zero tolerance for violence following days of unrest triggered by his decision to bypass parliament using a special constitutional power called article 49.3.
Lawyers, magistrates and politicians from the opposition have accused police officers of making hundreds of arbitrary arrests in an attempt to stifle the anti-government protests and video footage of police brutality aimed at protesters and some journalists have raised concern.
“The crowd, whatever form it takes, has no legitimacy in the face of the people who express themselves through their elected representatives,” he said, glossing over the fact that he denied those representatives a vote on his pension reform.
‘Restart’ talks with unions on worker conditions
The president also wished to “re-engage” dialogue with social partners on working conditions and to hear “the need for justice” expressed by the demonstrators. He promised that the discussion would concern in particular the evolution of careers or the hardship, and would be held “in the coming weeks”.
Unions were quick to react to the president’s words, accusing him of “contempt” and “lies” in order to “hide his inability to find a majority to vote for his unfair reform “.
Ready to accept ‘unpopularity’
The French president, who cannot seek re-election after his second term ends in 2027, said he was prepared to accept unpopularity over the contentious reform, which polls say is opposed by more than two-thirds of the French.
“Between short-term opinion polls and the broader interest of the nation, I choose (the latter),” he said. “If it is necessary to accept unpopularity today, I will accept it.”
Macron saw his approval rating plummet to 28% last week, according to an Ifop poll, his lowest level since the Yellow Vest crisis in 2019. The poll was conducted before he used special executive powers to force his pension reform, further enraging his critics.
An “exceptional contribution” from large companies
Emmanuel Macron denounced the “cynicism” of certain “large companies” that have made large windfall profits since the start of the war in Ukraine allowing them to buy back their own shares on the stock market and asked them for “an exceptional contribution” so that “workers can benefit” from this money.