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Protesters rally across France as Macron’s pension overhaul nears finale

eighth day of national protest in france against the pension reform
Protesters attend a demonstration against the French government's pension reform plan in Paris

Protesters marched across France on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to convince lawmakers not to back President Emmanuel Macron’s pensions reform bill that would raise the retirement age by two years to 64.

The protests have drawn millions of people since mid-January and walkouts have disrupted transport and energy sectors and left garbage piling up in the streets of Paris.

Protesters marched on Wednesday with home-made placards reading “No to 64 years,” or union banners marked with slogans such as “Public and private sector together for our pensions.”

“Lawmakers must look at what is happening in their constituencies,” Laurent Berger, the head of France’s biggest union, CFDT, told reporters at the Paris rally.

This new day of protests “is meant to tell lawmakers: don’t back this reform,” he said.

Despite the backlash, Macron has pressed ahead with his plan. The pension bill passed to a joint parliamentary committee on Wednesday where lawmakers from the lower and upper chambers were seeking a compromise text.

The committee has already agreed the article that will increase the retirement age. If a deal is reached on the whole bill, a final vote in both the Senate and National Assembly will be held on Thursday – where ruling party officials have acknowledged the numbers were tight.

Macron’s camp lacks its own absolute majority and will rely on the conservative Les Republicains (LR) party for support, though its ranks are divided on the issue.

“In the National Assembly, there will not be an easy vote, nor will there be panic,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told Europe 1 radio station.

Lawmakers on all sides told Reuters of senior ministers or their teams calling LR and centrist lawmakers to try and convince them to back the reform – sometimes offering favours for their constituencies in return.

“We’ve all received calls over the past days,” said Christophe Naegelen, of the centrist group Liot, where about 15 out of 20 will vote against the bill. Several LR lawmakers said the same.


Sylvain Maillard, an MP in Macron’s camp said it was “normal” to have conversations between the government and lawmakers.

“It’s not necessarily the minister who calls first. There may be an MP who’s hesitating (about his vote), who speaks to a minister, who has some issues locally. A minister can help,” he told Reuters. Asked if that was unethical, Maillard said: “The MP does his job, he pushes files for his constituency, he was also elected for that.”

If too tight for comfort, the government may resort to a procedure known as 49:3, which would allow it to push the text without a vote. That would ensure the text goes through but would risk anger on the streets.

Macron and his government say changes to the pension system, one of the most generous among industrialised nations, are necessary to keep the pension budget in the black. At stake for the president are not just financial gains, however, but also his reformist credentials.

But opinion polls show a vast majority of voters reject the reform, and unions, and protesters, have warned the government it should listen.

“We will continue the fight no matter what,” said Philippe Martinez, the head of the hardline CGT union, when asked if they would stop protests and walkouts if the bill is voted through.

“If they vote for this reform, I don’t think things will go down well, because we see that blue-collar workers, communities of workers have gone against this reform. People have had enough,” Yvonnick Dauve, a welder and unionist in Ancenis-Saint-Gereon, said at a march in western France.

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