French MPs launch debate of govt pensions overhaul
February 18 2020 01:15 AM
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Protesters hold placards reading ‘Margaret Macron, this time we will win’ under a photomontage of late British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and Macron as they demonstrate in front of Paris’s Louvre Museum yesterday as part of a multi-sector strike against the French government’s pensions overhaul.

AFP/Paris

The battle over the French government’s pension reform moved yesterday from the streets to parliament, where opposition lawmakers have vowed to torpedo a plan that sparked weeks of strikes and protests.
Unions are up in arms over President Emmanuel Macron’s bid to fuse France’s 42 retirement schemes into a single system, which they say will force millions to work longer.
Public transport workers walked off the job for a month and a half in December and January in one of their biggest shows of strength in decades, causing travel misery for millions, particularly in the Paris area.
However, a fresh strike and protests yesterday caused only minor disruptions on the Paris metro, while regional trains ran as normal.
Opposition lawmakers are taking up the fight with a legislative guerrilla campaign, introducing 41,000 amendments in a bid to keep the government from passing the reform in two to three weeks as planned.
“We’re going to make life hard for them, that’s for sure,” Jean-Luc Melenchon of the France Unbowed party told BFM television.
“Macron will never recover from this attempt to destroy pensions,” he said.
The government argues that the changes are necessary to make the system fairer for all, while also ending the deep deficits that have accumulated in recent years as more people live longer.
Tt will open talks today with unions on how to finance the system, but officials have warned that if no deal is reached, the retirement age will effectively be pushed pack by a few years from 62 currently.
The start of the debate comes as Macron’s centrist party reels from a sex scandal that toppled its candidate for mayor of Paris in next month’s municipal elections, Benjamin Griveaux.
Griveaux, a close Macron ally and former government spokesman, pulled out of the running over a leaked video showing a man alleged to be the 42-year-old politician.
To replace him, the government chose Health Minister Agnes Buzyn, one of the most prominent defenders of the pension reform, which will now be steered through parliament by her successor Olivier Veran.
“We have to fix the problems of our system,” Veran told lawmakers, adding: “I’m 39 years old, and already I have contributed to four different pension regimes.”
Macron’s centrist Republic on the Move (LREM) party wants to get the bill through parliament before the municipal elections, which analysts say could be a crucial test for the party.
While it has a comfortable majority in parliament, some LREM lawmakers have suggested the legislation may have to be forced through by executive decree if the opposition tries to hold it up indefinitely.
The reforms sweep away dozens of separate pension schemes, some dating back hundreds of years, that offer early retirement and other benefits to public-sector workers as well as lawyers, physiotherapists and even Paris Opera employees.
Tens of thousands of people, including large numbers of teachers and doctors, took part in seven separate days of nationwide protests in December and January.
The government argues that the French, who retire earlier on average than most Europeans, need to work for longer to keep the system afloat, or else accept lower payouts.



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