French PM eager to push for pension reform amid calls for ‘unlimited’ strikes

"Every time we touch the pension system, there are strikes. [...] Still, my goal is to show the French that the future system is more advantageous, fairer and more solid," explained Prime Minister Édouard Philippe in an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday (12 November). EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL MAXPPP OUT

The French government’s determination to push for pension reform does not appear to be wavering in the face of mounting calls for protest by trade unions, students, teachers and the ‘yellow vest’ movement. EURACTIV France reports.

The government in Paris is determined to push ahead with its pension reform, even if this means that strikes could block part of France.

That is because the rail workers’ General Confederation of Labour (CGT-Cheminots) initially called for an unlimited strike to take place on 5 December, to protest against the amendment of the special pension schemes included in the government’s reform.

Most of the unions have joined the movement: the General Confederation of Labour (CGT), the Workers’ Force (FO), as well as France’s main trade union in the education sector, FSU. The French group of trade unions Solidaires and the teachers’ union SE-UNSA also joined the call.

“Every time we touch the pension system, there are strikes. I am not saying that we will avoid strikes, even long ones. Still, my goal is to show the French that the future system is more advantageous, fairer and more solid,” Prime Minister Édouard Philippe explained in an interview with Bloomberg on Tuesday (12 November).

But social discontent is not limited to the issue of pensions. While France appears to be in a period of recovery, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest level in about a decade, many French people are far from being satisfied.

French GDP is expected to rise by 1.3% in 2019, which is more than the expected increase for the eurozone (1.2% according to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies INSEE), while measures taken in favour of households are having an impact on consumption.

But many employment sectors are under pressure and cannot find suitable candidates. This is especially the case for manual jobs such as carpentry, plumbing or catering, but also in the IT sector.

French ‘yellow vests’ caught up in social networks

As it enters its fourth week of protest, France’s ‘yellow vest’ movement continues to be active on Facebook. While the social network has allowed the movement to grow, Facebook is struggling to create a structure for the movement. EURACTIV France reports.

The ‘yellow vest’ movement and students join 

While the yellow vest movement, prompted by a major protest on 17 November 2018, appears to have run out of steam, some of them are still very active. The costly measures announced by the government to address the problems pointed out by the movement – €17 billion in the form of an increase in the value of the work premium and tax cuts – were not enough.

The yellow vest movement has decided to join the trade union movement in Montpellier on 5 December.

“We are still invisible,” said prominent yellow vest member Ingrid Levavasseur during a debate at the Forum for Peace in Paris on 13 November. Levavasseur had tried and failed to compile an election list for the European elections which took place in May 2019.

Michel Colombier, IDDRI’s scientific director, pointed out that “our societies are based on a social contract that is no longer adapted to reality”.

Besides, student demands should also be taken into account, especially after a student at Lyon II was injured after he set himself on fire in protest against the rising costs of university life on 8 November.

This act of protest has led to numerous demonstrations in other universities. Students denounce the precariousness of their situation, while some struggle to obtain healthcare or even eat.

The movement for special pension schemes did not gain massive support during the 13 September strike, but the accumulation of demands from those dissatisfied could generate more blockades across France in December.

French pension reform raises concerns in Brussels

As France fails to make in-depth changes to its pension system, the European Commission expressed concerns over the additional burden it could place on the private sector’s competitiveness. 

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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