Angry French pensioners march against Macron

Thousands of pensioners demonstrated across France on Thursday over increases in their taxes, the latest group to take to the streets over President Emmanuel Macron's economic reforms.

Angry French pensioners march against Macron
Photo: AFP

Around eight million pensioners on more than 1,200 euros ($1,400) a month will pay higher social security contributions next year as Macron seeks to slash the budget deficit.

The nine unions behind Thursday's protests say the increase — expected to bring in 20 billion euros in revenue — will set the elderly back hundreds of euros a year.

The pro-business Macron, whose government unveiled its first budget Wednesday, has made assurances that only the wealthiest pensioners will be asked to tighten their belts to ease the pressure on younger generations.

But protesters demonstrating in several cities Thursday insisted the idea they had money to spare was a myth.

“We're not all well off… and we're being hit up again,” said Danielle Bonfils, a retired secretary looking after a handicapped son in Bordeaux who struggles to make ends meet on less than 1,500 euros a month.

“At the end of the month, it's very tight,” said Bonfils, marching in the northeastern city of Reims.


  • Macron's first budget: Good for the rich, bad for the old

Regional revolt

The tax hike is aimed at funding cuts in the unemployment and health contributions of private-sector workers — one of Macron's key campaign promises.

The government has announced some seven billion euros in tax cuts on households — some of which will benefit the pensioners — and businesses in 2018 as part of a bid to spur consumer spending and entrepreneurship.

Unions and leftist parties have complained that the budget favours the wealthiest.

But Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has insisted that it benefits all.

The pensioners are the latest group to take their grievances with France's new leader to the street.

Tens of thousands of people took part in three mass protests over his shake-up of France's complex labour code — his first major economic reform aimed at combatting unemployment of 9.5 percent.

On Thursday, the heads of France's 22 regions joined the protest movement after being told their funding from Paris would be cut by 450 million euros in 2018.

The regional chiefs slammed the decision — part of a package of 16 billion euros in spending cuts — as “unfair” and walked out of a meeting with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

Macron sees improving France's finances as key to winning backing in Berlin and Brussels for his ambitious EU reform plans.

The eurozone's second-biggest economy remains one of the few countries with a budget deficit above the EU-mandated three percent of GDP.

It is already set to fall to 2.9 percent this year — the first time it will have met the three-percent target in a decade — but Macron wants to trim it further to 2.6 percent in 2018.

by AFP's Clare Byrne


Pension reform, investment, new jobs – Macron unveils France’s post-Covid recovery plan

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a series of economic measures, looking beyond the pandemic, although the much-anticipated pensions reform will be delayed until Covid is "under control".

Pension reform, investment, new jobs - Macron unveils France's post-Covid recovery plan
A nurse watches Macron's TV address on Monday. Photo: JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP.

Obligatory vaccines and the extension of the health pass made the headlines following Macron’s live TV address on Monday evening, but the President also sketched out his vision for France’s post-Covid economy.

Some of the measures he announced represent a return to the priorities he set at the beginning of his tenure, while others have been shaped by the pandemic.

Pension reform

There had been much speculation about a return of controversial plans to reform France’s retirement system, which were shelved at the start of the pandemic.

Macron confirmed that he planned to raise the retirement age – most people can currently retire at 62, but a number of ministers have been pushing to raise the legal minimum to 64.

READ ALSO France to tackle fourth Covid wave with stricter border controls, health passports and compulsory vaccines

“Because we are living longer, we will have to work longer, and retire later,” Macron said. “Not tomorrow, not brutally, and not in a uniform way because we will take the difficulty of a job into consideration.”

The government will begin consultations with workers and employers in September, but “will not undertake the reform so long as the epidemic is not under control and the recovery guaranteed,” Macron said.

This could mean his plans are not implemented before the presidential election in April 2022.

Macron also returned to a controversial point from the 2019 reform plan which lead to widespread protests: the abolition of the country’s 42 different pension regimes, which currently mean many public-sector workers can retire early. Under the new plans, these special regimes will be abolished for new employees, but people currently employed can keep the generous exceptions.

EXPLAINED: What are France’s special pension regimes?

The plan also includes a minimum pension of €1,000 per month after a full career. “A life of work must offer a dignified pension,” Macron said.

Unemployment reform

Changes to unemployment benefits will be “fully implemented” on October 1st. The reform was supposed to come into effect on July 1st, but in June, France’s Council of State decided to suspend certain elements regarding the way benefits are calculated.

“Uncertainties around the economic situation do not allow for implementing, at this moment, these new rules which are meant to support job stability by making benefits less attractive for workers alternating between short contracts and inactivity,” that decision stated.

“In France, you must earn a better living by working than by staying at home, which is currently not always the case,” Macron said on Tuesday.

From September, the government will also launch “a massive plan for the training and retraining of the long-term unemployed”.

“We have seen during this crisis the strength of our social model,” Macron said. “It’s a jewel we need to preserve. This social model rests on one foundation: work.”

Investment plan

During his address, Macron also emphasised the importance of economic sovereignty, and said an investment plan would be unveiled in the autumn following consultations this summer. The objective is “to build the France of 2030”, and to “reindustrialise, reconcile growth with ecological production”.

“We saw during this crisis the consequences of dependence,” Macron said, calling for French and European independence with regards to technology and primary resources.

Last month, the President announced a series of measures designed to stimulate French innovation in healthcare technology.

Support for young and old

Finally, Macron announced additional support for those who have been hardest hit by the pandemic – young people “who sacrificed so much even though there was little risk for themselves”, and elderly people “who more than others feared for their lives”.

In September, the government will unveil a new revenu d’engagement (commitment-based income) for young people not in education, employment or training. This “will be founded on rights and responsibilities”. This could resemble the garantie jeunes, a monthly benefit for 16 to 25-year-olds not in employment or training, created under François Hollande’s government.

For the older generation, Macron avoided specifics. “We owe them a great humanist ambition for independence, strengthened home care, modernised retirement homes,” he said.