Fiery Protests Erupt in France After Macron Raises Retirement Age

March 17, 2023

Protests turn fiery in France after President Emmanuel Macron forced a bill raising the national retirement age from 62 to 64 without a vote in Parliament.

Video of Thursday night’s protests shows multiple fires set in Paris, and demonstrators throwing bottles at police barriers while police respond with tear gas and water canons. 

The protests have disrupted traffic, garbage collection and university campuses. Striking sanitation workers blocked a waste collection plant in Paris that is home to Europe’s largest incinerator while university students have walked out of lecture halls to join the strikes. The the hard-line CGT Union has called on French citizens to walk out of schools, factories, refineries and other work places.

Macron has insisted that the two-year age hike in France’s pension law is necessary to guarantee the pension system’s survival. He passed the legislation via a constitutional power that allows the Executive in France to force bills through the National Assembly, the lower house of France’s parliament. 

According to Macron, the age hike is needed to reflect changing demographics. Life expectancy in France has increased by some three years in the past two decades. If the retirement age were to remain fixed at 62, there will only be 1.2 taxpaying workers to support each retiree in 2070, down from 1.7 in 2020, government data shows.

France already spends more on pensions than many other wealthy European nations. The government’s retirement spending was equal to 13.6% of its economy in 2021, compared to about 10% in Germany and just less than 11% in Spain, according to the 38-country Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Macron’s plan would reportedly reinforce France’s pension system by 2027 to the tune of $19 billion.

Opponents, however, argue that the age increase will disproportionately impact blue-collar workers, who are more likely to have begun working at a younger age than white-collar workers.

At least 310 people were arrested overnight Thursday—including 258 in Paris—as protests raged from France’s capital city to Rennes to Marseille. Demonstrations were also reported in Toulouse and Lyon. 

On French radio, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin warned against what he called the chaos of random, spontaneous street demonstrations.

Meanwhile, representatives from a dozen labor unions have called for a massive protest on Thursday, March 23. 

Opposition lawmakers have demanded that Macron’s government to step down. If an expected no-confidence motion fails, the pension bill would be considered adopted. If the no-confidence vote passes, it would not only reverse the French retirement age increase, it would force the government to resign for the first time since 1962.

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