Opinion: Macron is dragging France’s retirement age out of the seventeenth century

Editor’s Observe: David A. Andelman, a contributor to CNN, twice winner of the Deadline Membership Award, is a chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, creator of “A Red Line in the Sand: Diplomacy, Strategy, and the History of Wars That Might Still Happen” and blogs at Andelman Unleashed. He previously was a correspondent for The New York Instances and CBS Information in Europe and Asia. The views expressed on this commentary are his personal. View extra opinion at CNN.


The final time President Emmanuel Macron tried to pull France’s antiquated pension and retirement system from the seventeenth century into the twenty first century with one lengthy pull, mobs coursed by way of the streets of Paris, flaming barricades went up on the Champs Elysées and Macron’s whole presidency almost floundered within the face of the “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests).

Now, 4 years later, attempting once more with a number of tweaks of appeasement, Macron doesn’t appear very prone to escape a a lot completely different destiny. On Tuesday, the French authorities introduced plans to lift the official retirement age from 62 to 64 to qualify for a full pension.

Backlash from commerce unions was swift. The primary nationwide protest strike has already been fastened for January 19.

However Macron is a decided man. The French finances dangers floundering on pensions which might be siphoning off almost 14% of the nation’s GDP every year – roughly twice the drain than within the United Sates and behind solely Italy and Greece in Europe.

In saying the plan, the Macron authorities identified that with out some reform, the nation’s finances dangers accumulating an virtually $20 billion annual deficit by 2030. “Otherwise, we’ll be financing our retirement system on credit,” Macron stated.

The French have lengthy and fiercely defended their labor rights within the face of presidency reform. Within the Eighties, once I lived on the Rue de Solférino, throughout the road from the headquarters of the ruling Socialist Social gathering, farmers dumped truckloads of carrots in protest towards agricultural reforms. Extra just lately, they’ve marched hordes of sheep and pigs by way of the streets of Paris in protest towards rising farming prices.

The query within the face of the French public’s pig-headedness is whether or not Macron’s willpower and attraction to rational economics is sufficient. And what mannequin may a second Macron failure set for the remainder of the world? If France can’t reform, how can different international locations, weighed down by quickly growing old populations and fragile economies, handle?

At the moment, all women and men in France can retire with full pensions at 62 – tied with Sweden and Norway for the bottom retirement age in western Europe. Macron desires to lift that age by simply two years (nonetheless beneath the US and United Kingdom, the place the retirement age is between 66 and 67, relying on the yr born).

However there are particular exemptions courting again to the time of Louis XIV. After acting on the stage for 10 years, actors of the Comédie Française – the classical French theater based by the good playwright Molière – are entitled to say a lifetime pension. This dates to the corporate’s creation in 1680.

Dancers within the Paris Opera can retire with full pension on the age of 42, a customized that dates to 1689, as Louis XIV was anxious to ascertain an opera and ballet firm that might be the envy of Europe. Stagehands at each corporations can nonetheless take their retirement at 57. Then there are practice conductors who can bow out at age 52.

Although life expectations have modified dramatically over the centuries, pension schemes haven’t. In France, life expectancy within the mid-18th century was simply 25 years, rising to between 60 and 70 by the top of the Second World Warfare. Nowadays, life expectancy in France is a bit over 79 for males and 85 for ladies. However the retirement ages have totally did not hold tempo.

In all, there are no less than 42 completely different pension schemes, most of them cemented into regulation throughout the chaotic interval on the finish of the Second World Warfare. And there may be nonetheless a cacophony of eight commerce union federations – greater than in Germany, Italy and Britain mixed. Now, Macron is proposing to get rid of all of the particular offers for everybody from subway motormen to tellers within the Banque de France.

They are going to all come underneath a single nationwide retirement umbrella. And 64 would be the age with a uniform minimal pension of a bit over 1,300 Euros ($1,400) monthly. Nonetheless, a few of the outdated guidelines are simply too deeply embedded to deal with. The brand new system gained’t apply to the Paris Opera, Comédie Française, nor fishermen, legal professionals or the “liberal professions” (docs, dentists and designers, amongst others).

For everybody else, nevertheless, the unions are taking over arms. France’s main commerce unions carry political and social muscle far past something wielded by their American counterparts. On the identical time, Macron has little of the identical persuasive capacity, institutionally, as President Joe Biden had when he referred to as on Congress to behave final month to avert a catastrophic rail strike that threatened to paralyze American transportation and commerce.

With the height of the Covid-19 pandemic apparently behind him, and a second time period presidential win underneath his belt (though his parliamentary majority has light to an unruly plurality), Macron clearly felt now was the time to implement his long-dreamed reforms.

He may have a battle on his arms. France’s nationwide yellow vest protests 4 years in the past have been touched off by rising gas costs, however rapidly morphed into complaints towards a far broader agenda. Particularly, inflation fueled by fuel costs that have been hitting the pocketbooks of retirees particularly laborious. The third rail of French politics has lengthy been pensions and retirement. All too usually, the French fairly merely dwell to cease working.

“We have to be able to face reality and find solutions to preserve our social model,” French Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne noticed as she introduced what the administration was couching as a compromise measure. Throughout his reelection marketing campaign final yr, Macron floated a retirement age of 65. He’s hoping that shaving a yr off this quantity may make it no less than a trifle extra palatable. Fats likelihood.

“Nothing justifies such a brutal reform,” Laurent Berger, chief of the reasonable CFDT union, informed reporters after the reform plan was disclosed. That’s a technique of it. However in reality, the retirement age will probably be phased in fairly gently – rising by simply three months per yr and never arriving on the age of 64 till 2030.

None of that is prone to silence union leaders who’ve any variety of important allies throughout France’s huge political spectrum – all of them seeing retirement as a technique to eviscerate Macron’s second and final five-year time period.

“The French can count on our determination to block this unfair reform,” stated Marine Le Pen, chief of the far-right Nationwide Rally occasion, who Macron defeated within the presidential elections final April. On the different finish of the spectrum, Mathilde Panot, from the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) occasion tweeted that the plan was “archaic, unfair, brutal, cruel.”

Now, nevertheless, the battle is on. That’s some mannequin for America and its unions on the debut of a newly budget-minded Congress. To not point out a European Union poised getting ready to a recession.