‘We need to work longer’: France’s Macron defends pensions reform

On Tuesday, he told journalists the later age was necessary as life expectancy was on the rise.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday defended his government’s hotly contested pensions overhaul, making a rare intervention on a reform he has championed but where he has kept a low profile.

A majority of the French population, according to polls, and left-wing groups in parliament are strongly opposed to the plan, which includes raising the age of retirement from 62 to 64.

But Macron, who put the overhaul at the centre of his re-election campaign last year, had until now largely avoided face-to-face meetings on the plan with members of the public and let his government handle the criticism.

Macron: ‘There’s no miracle’

On Tuesday, he told journalists the later age was necessary as life expectancy was on the rise.

“There’s no miracle: If we want to keep this system going, we need to work longer,” he said as he toured the meat section of the massive Rungis wholesale food market south of Paris.

“Everybody has common sense… On the whole, people know that everybody has to work a little longer on average, otherwise we won’t be able to properly fund our pensions,” he said.

“If we don’t create wealth, we cannot then distribute it.”

The government has argued the changes are crucial to lift France’s pensions system out of deficit by 2030.

The proposals would bring France closer into line with its European neighbours, most of which have retirement ages of 65 or higher.

But hundreds of thousands of people have gone on strike or taken to the street on five separate occasions in recent weeks to protest against the proposed changes.

The adjustments would also include raising the number of years workers must contribute to receive a full pension, and abolishing certain special retirement schemes.

– National ‘treasure’ –

Macron described the French retirement scheme as a “treasure” and the “inheritance of those who don’t have one”.

He admitted the reform came at a “tough” time of inflation that he hoped would soon wane, but said it would allow “for the creation of more wealth for the country”.

By meeting “professionals who work from dawn” at the market, he wanted to send “a message of gratitude to all those who keep the country running”, he added.

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A stormy two-week debate in the National Assembly on the draft bill ended on Friday without even reaching a discussion on its contentious Article 7 on raising the retirement age.

The bill is next to be examined in the upper-house Senate from February 28.

Polling has shown that around 70 percent of respondents oppose the pension reform.

At one of the largest day of protests in late January, more than 1 million demonstrated across the country, the interior ministry said.

Fewer demonstrators took part in rallies on Thursday last week, but unions said they were merely aiming to keep up the momentum ahead of a mass walkout planned for March 7.

ALSO READ: France gripped by strikes over Macron’s pension reform plan

From that date, unions are warning of rolling strikes on public transport that could paralyse parts of the country for weeks on end. 

The centrist government is hoping to push through the reform in parliament with help from the right, without resorting to a mechanism that would avoid a parliamentary vote but would risk fuelling more protests.

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