Anger at raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 is once again driving hundreds of thousands of French people onto the streets. In Macron's final term, the reform becomes a showdown. His approval ratings are slipping in polls.
For the second time in two weeks, hundreds of thousands of French people have protested against plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. In several major French cities, more people took to the streets than on January 19, when more than a million people took part in demonstrations. Strikes in several sectors also paralyzed large parts of public life.
"It is one of the largest organized demonstrations that our country has seen in recent decades," said union boss Laurent Berger. "I don't want to work until 64, it's not possible," said Sandrine Carré, a 52-year-old preschool teacher from Bordeaux. "We squat on the floor so much that I already have broken knees," she added.
Even if the number of traffic strikers was slightly lower than on the first day of the protest, numerous trains, buses and flights were canceled. At the French railway SNCF, around 37 percent of employees stopped working, previously it was 46 percent. In many schools there were no lessons. Several dozen students from the Paris Sciences Po college occupied the university building on Tuesday night. The employees of the energy company EDF reduced the electricity production in protest, but this initially did not lead to power outages. In the refineries and fuel depots of TotalEnergies, the majority of employees walked out.
Around 11,000 security forces were deployed to prevent riots during the demonstrations. More than 200 protest marches were announced nationwide. In Paris, the demonstration began in the afternoon at the Place d'Italie. A union spoke of half a million participants in Paris. However, the information provided by the organizers and the authorities in France traditionally differs greatly. According to the unions, there were 400,000 demonstrators in Paris on the first day of the protest, according to the Interior Ministry only 80,000. By late afternoon, six people had been taken into police custody in Paris.
"If the prime minister didn't hear the message on the first day of the strike, then we will now convey it louder and more numerously," said CGT union boss Philippe Martinez to the BFM and RTL broadcasters. The unions are calling for the planned increase in the retirement age from 62 to 64 to be abandoned.
President Emmanuel Macron had stressed the night before that the reform was necessary "to save the system". The pension fund is currently showing a surplus, but according to estimates by experts, it will slip into a deficit of 14 billion euros by 2030. The reform is therefore "inevitable," said Macron, referring to the other EU countries where the retirement age is already significantly higher.
According to a survey published on Tuesday, Macron's approval ratings fell by five points as a result of the pension reform debate, to just 36 percent. According to a survey by the Odoxa Institute, almost two-thirds of the population blame the government for the strikes and the paralysis of public life.
Experts expect that the protest movement could expand. At the first attempt at reform in 2019, France had experienced the longest strikes since the student protests in 1968. "Pensions are a sacred cow in the imagination of the French. They are a symbol of the entire social system and can therefore become a catalyst for anger," said social expert Raymond Soubie of the newspaper "Le Parisien".
In addition to raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, the reform also includes an increase in the minimum pension to EUR 1,200. In addition, the employment of seniors should be promoted. For Macron, pension reform is one of the most important projects of his second and final term.