Last-ditch protests in France over Macron's pension reform

Last-ditch protests in France over Macron's pension reform

Demonstrators burn an effigy of Macron during a pensions protest in Paris on April 6
Demonstrators burn an effigy of Macron during a pensions protest in Paris on April 6. Photo: Alain JOCARD / AFP
Source: AFP

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Hundreds of thousands of people are set to take to the streets across France again on Thursday to protest against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms, in a final day of demonstrations before a crucial court decision on the legislation.

Police expect around 400,000 to 600,000 people to take part nationwide. That would be fewer than half the nearly 1.3 million reached in March at the height of the protests against the reforms, which include raising the retirement age to 64 from 62.

Nevertheless, "now's not the time to give up, because that's what Macron is expecting", said Johan Chivert, a student in the Creuse region in central France.

"We have to keep going and show the people are against this reform."

Security forces are on alert for troublemakers, with around 1,500 anarchist and radical protesters expected in Paris, while regional towns such as Nantes and Rennes are again seen as being at risk of clashes.

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All eyes are currently on the constitutional court, which is due to rule on the legality of the draft pensions law.

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"The decision from the constitutional court on Friday will bring an end to the democratic and constitutional procedures," Macron told reporters on a trip to the Netherlands on Wednesday, adding that public debate "will continue, for sure".

If the court issues a green light -- as ministers are privately confident it will -- Macron hopes to sign the changes into law immediately, clearing the way for them to enter into force before the end of 2023.

Having repeatedly snubbed calls for talks with union leaders in recent weeks, the 45-year-old said he would invite labour representatives for discussions once the court decision was published.

"I know that traces of our current disagreements will remain but I will do it (call for talks) in a spirit of concord and with the desire to look to the future, whatever decision is announced," he added.

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Losing momentum?

If the law is approved, it remains to be seen if unions will call more strikes, with momentum clearly waning and employees reluctant to give up on salaries for what seems like a losing battle.

Most trains will be running on Thursday at state rail operator SNCF and the Paris public transport provider RATP, past bastions of strike participation.

French pension reform: route of protest in Paris
Map of the planned protest route against the pension reform in Paris on April 13, 2023. Photo: Valentin RAKOVSKY / AFP
Source: AFP

Meanwhile the DGAC aviation authority has asked carriers to reduce flights to Nantes, Bordeaux and Toulouse airports by 20 percent -- a far cry from past disruptions.

But the hard-left CGT union has called for new strikes by refinery workers and rubbish collectors, whose walkout left the streets of Paris heaving with rubbish for three weeks in March.

Workers blocked the entrance to the Feyzin refinery near Lyon for two hours early on Thursday before police intervened, the local prefecture told AFP. Others blockaded a rubbish incinerator outside Paris.

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"Mobilisation must continue because this bill cannot see the light of day," Manuel Bompard, a leading MP for hard-left opposition party France Unbowed, told broadcaster France 2 on Thursday.

Depending on the court's decision, unions are weighing a call for mass demonstrations on Labour Day, May 1, either spread nationwide or concentrated in Paris.

'Increase quantity of work'

Surveys show that about two in three French people are against the pension change, but Macron argues that they are essential to stop the system falling into heavy deficits in coming decades.

President Macron hopes the reforms can enter into force before the end of 2023
President Macron hopes the reforms can enter into force before the end of 2023. Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP
Source: AFP

Critics accuse the president of riding roughshod over public opinion and parliament, where the minority government invoked controversial executive powers to ram the legislation through without a vote at the end of March.

Speaking in the Netherlands, Macron linked the pension changes to the need for France to control public spending and his wider agenda for closer economic ties between EU members.

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"I'm proud of the French social model and I defend it but if we want to make it sustainable we have to produce more," he said.

"We have to re-industrialise the country. We have to decrease unemployment and we have to increase the quantity of work being delivered in the country. This pension reform is part of it."

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Source: AFP

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