Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam describes Macron challenged again
French President Emmanuel Macron challenged again is accident prone though he emerges successful in the end. The latest crisis he faces is the strong protests about a contentious pension reform without a parliamentary vote. The government invoked a controversial constitutional power to impose the pension overhaul by decree, sparking protests outside parliament in Paris as well as in several other cities. The government imposed the pensions bill, which seeks to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, despite two months of coordinated nationwide strikes and some of the biggest protests in decades. The protestors mentioned that they were incensed and would continue to protest until the bill was revoked. They added that they are not taking into account what the people want and that Macron does not give a fig about the people as he does not understand the language of the people.
More than a million people took part in demonstrations across France halting trains and cutting electricity production, in protest against government plans to raise the retirement age by two years to 64. The government said a total of 1.12 million people had taken part in the demonstration, including 80,000 at a march in Paris, which saw police clash briefly with some protesters. The turnout was quite a large number, even by French standards, and more than the turnout at a first rally against a previous pension reform in 2019.
The government says the pension reform is vital to ensure the system does not go bust. Pushing back the retirement age by two years and extending the pay-in period would bring an additional 17.7 billion euros ($19.1 billion) in annual pension contributions, allowing the system to break even by 2027. Unions argue there are other ways to ensure the viability of the pension system such as taxing the super-rich or increasing employers’ contributions or those of well-off pensioners. They insist that the problem can be solved in a different way, through taxation and that workers should not have to pay for the public sector deficit. The challenge for the unions is to transform opposition to the reform — and anger over a cost-of-living crisis — into a mass social protest which could eventually force the government to change tack.
Union leaders, expected to announce more strikes and protests in the evening, said that it was just the beginning. The pension reform still needs to go through parliament, where Macron has lost his absolute majority but is hoping to get it passed with the support of conservatives. Train drivers, teachers and refinery workers were among those who walked off their jobs, as well as nearly 45 per cent of staff at utility giant EDF, the company said. France Inter radio played music instead of its usual programming and bus drivers and civil servants also stopped work. Only between one-in-three and one-in-five high-speed TGV lines were operating, with barely any local or regional trains running, the SNCF rail operator said. In the energy sector, strikers were to halt production at a large refinery and the workers had already been on a rolling strike at the northern site TotalEnergies de Normandie but halting production would escalate the industrial action. Strikers continued to deliver less fuel than normal from several other sites.
A 2007 ban on wildcat walkouts and restrictions on strikes to guarantee minimum public services have limited unions’ ability to wear down governments’ reform ambitions. The fact that working from home is much more common now since the pandemic could also have an impact. The strike halted ferry crossings between Dover and Calais, a major sea route for trade between Britain and the continent. Some seven out of 10 primary school teachers stopped work, and nearly as many in high schools, their unions said, though the Education Ministry gave much lower figures. In Paris, students blockaded at least one high school in support of the strike action. EDF and grid operator RTE data showed electricity production was down by roughly 10 per cent of total power supply, prompting France to raise imports. Shipments were blocked at TotalEnergies’ refineries in France, union and company officials said, but the company said one strike day would not disrupt refinery operations. The impact on air traffic was largely limited to a reduction of about 20pc of flights in Orly, Paris’ second-biggest airport.
In the meanwhile France’s Senate voted to approve a deeply unpopular reform to the country’s pension system, hours after demonstrators took to the streets to oppose the cornerstone policy of President Emmanuel Macron’s second term in office. Senators passed the reforms by 195 votes to 112, bringing the package another step closer to becoming law. A committee will now hammer out a final draft, which will then be submitted to both the Senate and National Assembly for a final vote. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said that she believed the government had a parliamentary majority to get the reforms passed into law. TW