MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Up next on The World and Everything in It, protests in France.
When French President Emmanuel Macron was first elected, back in 2017, he promised economic reform to make France more competitive in the global marketplace. Part of that effort was pension reform. France has one of the most generous retirement systems in Europe, and it’s on track to run eleven-digit deficits within the next decade. Macron’s initial efforts to reform the pension system fizzled in the wake of the yellow-vest protests and then the pandemic.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: But after his reelection last year, Macron vowed to try again. His administration in January announced a new plan to raise the retirement age in France from 62 to 64. That’s already a concession: The original plan was a change to age 65. Even so, the proposal has French citizens out in the streets protesting. They’ve disrupted trains, metros, schools, even the power grid. Here’s audio from the gas company union going on strike.
AUDIO: [Chanting union protesters]
REICHARD: WORLD’s Global Desk Chief and Europe Reporter Jenny Lind Schmitt says that neither the protesters nor French authorities are likely to budge any time soon.
JENNY LIND SCHMITT: They are saying that, that money is the only thing that Macron will listen to and so that they have to get in the street and shut the system down in order for him to listen. And I think, you know, some of it is solidarity, some in industries that aren't as physically taxing are saying, No, this is we have to stand up to the government. But the government seems very intent on following through with the plans and had sent messages, Okay, we see you but we're not going to meet with the leaders of the unions. And there's even been a talk of using clause And that's a clause in the Constitution that says that the executive can put a law into place without consent of the parliament. And that's because Macron really wants this to pass. He's kind of staking his whole legacy on being an economic reformer and fixing the pension system. And so that is why he has been pulling out all the stops to make this work.
BROWN: While union leaders say that raising the retirement age will require workers in their sixties to work longer in physically taxing industries, supporters of the policy say that it’s the least terrible option for solving an existential problem. Here’s French official Olivier Varan speaking to BFM TV.
AUDIO: [OLIVIER VÉRAN]
SCHMITT: Veran says, “The Senate has adopted this reform which asks the French to progressively work a little bit longer in order to balance our retirement system by 2030. This eliminates the unwished-for alternatives of raising taxes on the French, lowering retirement pensions, or increasing our nation’s debt for future generations.”
REICHARD: Yesterday [Wednesday], France’s Parliament came one step closer to raising the retirement age by approving the measure in joint committee. It will now go back to the Senate and National Assembly for a vote today [Thursday].
Regardless of the outcome of this vote, Schmitt says French lawmakers are right to stop kicking this problem down the road.
AUDIO: [French Protests]
SCHMITT: Somebody at some point needs to make some hard decisions, hard, unpopular decisions and follow through with them. And whatever one might think of Macron’s policies, I do think it's admirable that he has the courage to tell the French what they don't want to hear, and that if they want to be economically stable in the future, they need to make some hard decisions and hard changes now.
BROWN: That’s a lesson politicians in the US would also do well to learn.
Jenny Lind Schmitt is WORLD’s Global Desk Chief and Europe Reporter.
WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.
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