NEARLY two-thirds of French people “don’t trust” President Emmanuel Macron, a poll published on Thursday found, as the young centrist grapples to contain protests against his controversial overhaul of the country’s unwieldy pension system. The poll, conducted by Elabe for Les Echos newspaper and Radio Classique, showed that 63 percent of those interviewed “trust” their 42-year-old leader, up two percentage points from last month.
Sixty-three percent of respondents, however, told pollsters they “don’t trust” M Macron, down two points in one month. Hardline trade unions blocked ports and cut output at electricity generation sites on Thursday in a bid to force M Macron to withdraw the pension reform. But turnout fell again at protest marches and the impact of transport strikes weakened. At a sixth mass protest organised by unions, the Interior Ministry counted only 187,000 marching nationwide, including 23,000 in Paris; compared to 452,000 including 56,000 in Paris last week.
The first major anti-pension reform rallies on December 5 had attracted more than 800,000 people nationwide. The union-led strikes are now in their 44th day, but the industrial action has lost impetus since the Macron government made some concessions, and as the strike starts to hit workers’ wallets. M Macron plans to merge the country’s 42 separate pension schemes into a single, points-based system he says will be fairer and more sustainable.
He says the changes are needed to end deficits that could reach £14.5 billion (€17billion) by 2025 of no action is taken. While he has vowed to push through the overhaul despite the protests, his prime minister said in a letter to unions and employers last week that the government was prepared to drop plans to raise the retirement age if certain conditions were met.
Edouard Philippe had hoped to create incentives for people to work longer, notably by raising the age at which a person could draw a full pension to 64 while maintaining the legal retirement age of 62, but unions rejected the so-called “pivot age” outright.
M Philippe said: “The compromise that I’m offering … seems to me the best way to peacefully reform our retirement system.” He also stressed in the letter that he expected unions and employers to agree on how to ensure the long-term financing of the indebted pension system in April. If they fail to agree, the government will pass decrees guaranteeing the system is back in the black by 2027, he said.
But the hardline CGT and FO unions, which want the reform scrapped altogether, rejected the offer and have called on workers to continue striking. They fear the pension changes will force millions to work longer for a smaller payout. The government still aims to present the pension reform bill on January 24 so that it can be debated in parliament starting in mid February, with the aim of passing a law before the summer break. With one of the lowest retirement ages among industrialised nations, France currently spends the equivalent of 14 percent of economic output on pensions.
• The Elabe poll of 1,006 people aged 18 and over was conducted online between January 14-15.