Macron insists pension reform is needed, despite protests

PARIS (AP): French President Emmanuel Macron insisted on the need for raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 in order to make the French pension system financially sustainable in the coming years, in a letter to workers’ unions released Friday.

The move comes after more than a million demonstrators marched in cities and towns across France this week as train and metro drivers, refinery workers and others started open-ended strikes against the centrist government’s plan.

Unions called for more protests on Saturday. They demand the withdrawal of the bill, which is being debated at the Senate this week.

According to the letter provided by the president’s office, Macron said he made the choice to “make the French work a little longer” because other options, which he rejected, would have involved “decreasing pensions, raising taxes or letting our children and grandchildren carry the financial burden.”

Opinion polls consistently show a majority of the French oppose the change. Left-wing lawmakers argue companies and the wealthy should pitch in more to finance the pension system.

Macron also recalled the measure was a key promise from his presidential campaign last year, adding that he made a concession by agreeing to put the age limit at 64, down from 65 as initially planned.

 “You strongly express your disagreement,” Macron wrote to the unions. “I don’t underestimate the discontent … as well as the anxiety expressed by many French people who have concerns about never getting any pension.”

Meanwhile, the government asked Friday for a special procedure to be implemented at the Senate to accelerate the debate by organizing one single vote on the whole bill, rather than voting on each amendment and article.

The Senate, which is dominated by members of The Republicans party, is expected to approve the bill. Conservative senators have pushed for years to raise the minimum retirement age.

If the bill is approved by the Senate, it will continue making its way next week through France’s complex legislative process.