The French government and the unions are looking for a way out of the social crisis caused by the controversial pension reform of President Emmanuel Macron, approved by decree two weeks ago, despite having the country against it. The Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, will receive next week the union organizations, united for the first time in a decade against this law. This means that both parties sit down again to talk, something that has not happened since the reform was approved in January.
The appointment will take place between Monday and Wednesday, just before the new mobilization day called for Thursday, which will be the eleventh. Basically, the appointment does not change much, since the two sides remain firm in their positions and these are irreconcilable. The unions ask that the law be withdrawn or parked for the moment. The Government insists that this is not going to happen and, furthermore, it is not going to move a comma, even less about the thorniest article: the one that delays the current retirement age from 62 to 64.
In the form, things do change, because both parties are at least open to talking for the first time in almost three months. "The unions will be able to talk about all the issues they want," said sources close to the prime minister. "If we go, it's to talk about pensions. What else?" demanded Laurent Berger, general secretary of the CFDT, the most moderate and most representative union in the country.
Both Berger and the CGT leader, Philipe Martinez, suggested that Macron accept the intervention of a mediator, an external personality who acts as a judge in the crisis, who has become radicalized on the street. But first they want the law to be put on hold, something that has been emphatically rejected by the Government.
In the last week the Government and unions have reached out to each other, although with small mouths. In a television interview a week and a half ago, Emmanuel Macron was open to talking to the unions about "all issues in the workplace, but not pensions." Days later it was Borne who threw the gauntlet at them, but she was also adamant on that point.
The next two weeks are key. In the strike called for next Thursday, it will be tested whether the mobilization deflates or is maintained. But above all it will be crucial on April 14, which will be when the Constitutional Council announces its verdict on the reform. You must decide two questions. The first is whether it complies with the Constitution. The unions and the opposition denounce that the procedure used to approve it (such as a financial law) is a legal shortcut and invalid.
It will also decide on a proposal from the left to hold a referendum to limit the retirement age to 62. This Council is independent and is made up of nine experts with extensive careers and prestige, including the former minister, Alain Juppé. If they give the green light to the pension reform, it will be enacted and enter into force, as planned, in September. They can also modify the parts that they consider do not conform to the Magna Carta.
The radicalization in the last days of the protests against the reform (many of them spontaneous, apart from those called by these organizations) makes the solution to the social crisis more urgent, even before the Council pronounces. The tenth day of the strike was held on Thursday, with a drop in participation, but with new incidents. There were more than 200 injured policemen, according to Interior, and a hundred people were questioned.
The Government is aware that, as the street is, the union route may be the only way out. The unions, in turn, fear that the peaceful mobilization they have led up to now will lose strength and that the protest will be left in the hands of radicals. An environmental demonstration held on Saturday in Saint Soline, in the west of the country, ended with strong clashes between participants (the Government says that the majority are extremists) and law enforcement. There are two protesters in a coma and their families have filed lawsuits for attempted murder.
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