French citizens protest retirement law

By Griffin Brammer, Staff Writer

French citizens are protesting President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to raise the retirement age.

On March 16, Macron increased the retirement age from 62 to 64. The pension bill was set to be voted on in the National Assembly, but before the vote, Macron invoked a presidential privilege to bypass the bill from Parliament, setting it into action.

Macron noted that the retirement age, one of the lowest in the European Union, was raised to protect the state of France’s pension system. 

“(We cannot) gamble the future of our pensions,” Macron-appointed Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne told Parliament. 

The decision was made after analysis trends showing France’s increased elderly population, as fewer citizens are working to fund the retirement system. 

“The financial risks were too great,” Macron stated to his cabinet.

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French President Emmanuel Macron is growing increasingly unpopular after pushing through a pension bill before a parliamentary vote.

The bill, along with Macron’s methodology, has proven unpopular with French citizens. Protests began peacefully, with as many as 800,000 union members attending Paris’ march.

French sociologist Marc Loriol explained the significance of the bill to French work culture. 

“Work is very important for French people, but since about 20 or 30 years ago, a lot of jobs have become precarious,” Loriol told NPR. “So (now), people say, ‘I can’t think my work is my only goal in my life.’”

French authorities estimated that a total of one million protesters marched nationwide, while unions gave an estimate upward of 3.5 million.

Last Thursday, the ninth day of protests, marked one of the most violent days for the French government as protesters began attacking public buildings. 

“There were many protests, which sometimes lasted until very late last night, turning violent notably in Paris,” Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin stated in an interview. The doors to Bordeaux’s City Hall were lit on fire.

Another recent strike led by French sanitation workers literally added fuel to the flames, as demonstrators began setting the increasingly large piles of trash accumulating around French cities ablaze. Darmanin identified around 900 fires started in Paris alone.

Nearly 500 protesters were arrested across France overnight. Riots began in cities including Paris after police used tear gas and pressurized water cannons to dispatch crowds. An estimated 441 policemen were injured.

“There are troublemakers, often extreme left, who want to take down the state and kill police and ultimately take over the institutions,” Darmanin said regarding the French protesters. 

The protests have spurred several votes of no confidence within opposing parties in the National Assembly. As of yet, none have received the required amount of votes, meaning both Borne and Macron will remain in power.

President Macron had previously stated in a TV interview that he disagreed with the push to drive himself and Borne out of office. 

“(My one regret) is that I have not succeeded in convincing people of the necessity of this reform,” he said.

Due to the increasingly violent nature of the protests, a recently-planned visit from King Charles of England was postponed this past Friday.

“The king and the queen consort’s state visit to France has been postponed. Their majesties greatly look forward to the opportunity to visit France as soon as dates can be found,” a statement from Buckingham palace read.