Why is France protesting over President Emmanuel Macron's move to raise retirement age?

·3 min read

Protests erupted across France again on Thursday after French President Emmanuel Macron pushed forward an unpopular bill to raise the country's retirement age without the approval of lawmakers. The drama comes as trash was piling up on the streets of Paris because garbage workers were continuing to strike over the issue, and fires were burning outside streetside cafes.

Uncertainty over the bill’s future prompted Macron and Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne to invoke Article 49.3 of the Constitution, bypassing the vote by the lower chamber. The move infuriated opposition lawmakers, provoking some to call for the resignation of the leaders. The opposition is also now considering appealing to the country's constitutional council – France’s highest constitutional body – to try to block part or all of the law.

Paris police said Tuesday that 234 people were arrested overnight in the capital mostly for setting fire to garbage in the streets.

Despite the smell and the garbage-filled streets, with some piles standing taller than an average person, many Parisians are expressing support with the sanitation workers on strike. Polling shows the majority of French people oppose Macron's plan, which raises the age when workers start collecting a government pension by two years. The retirement age moves from 62 to 64 for most workers, and from 57 to 59 for garbage collectors.

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Why is Macron pushing this reform?

All retirees in France receive a state pension, which is funded by a specific tax on those currently working. However, between the country’s lower birth rate and longer life expectancies, the current pension system is projected to face a shortfall in the next decade.

The grim future of the pension system has prompted Macron to make the proposed change a key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is necessary.

Macron has argued that raising France's retirement age will make the country's pension system financially sustainable in the future. He pushed the legislation through French Parliament last week without a vote, due to a special constitutional article.

Dig deeper: Heaps of trash pile up on Paris streets amid protests against France retirement law: Photos

Protesters hold a placard with a portrait of Emmanuel Macron during a demonstration against plans to push back France's retirement age, in Lille, northern France, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.
Protesters hold a placard with a portrait of Emmanuel Macron during a demonstration against plans to push back France's retirement age, in Lille, northern France, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023.

What would the bill change?

Macron is pushing to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. The bill would also require 43 years of work to be eligible to receive a full pension at 64, otherwise individuals would have to wait until they are 67.

The new conditions would apply to those born in or after 1968. However, workers born in 1961, who were supposed to retire this year, would have to work three extra months.

What is the opposition saying?

Those opposed to Macron’s plan argue that there are alternative ways to fund the pension system instead of raising the retirement age, including a tax on the wealthy or an increase in payroll contributions paid by employers.

France’s eight main workers’ unions have also joined forces to call on the government to completely abandon the age increase, which is the first time since 2010 that all eight unions have come together against a reform plan.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Protests in France: Macron's move to raise retirement age sparks anger