France braced for another day of protests and strikes on Thursday to denounce President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform after talks between the government and unions ended in a stalemate.
There have been signs that the two-and-a-half-month-long protest movement is beginning to lose momentum and unions are hoping for massive turnout on the 11th day of action since January.
All parties to the stalemate are awaiting the April 14 verdict on reform from France’s Constitutional Council, which has the power to overturn all or part of the legislation.
Macron, currently out of the country on a visit to China, faces the biggest challenge of his second term over his flagship pension overhaul, which includes raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64.
Protests escalated into violent unrest after Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on March 16 invoked controversial executive power to push the bill through parliament without a vote.
Unions said a meeting with Borne on Wednesday made no progress after she refused to discuss returning to the minimum retirement age of 64.
“It is clearly a failure when the Prime Minister does not even allow entering into this discussion,” said Cyril Chabanier, speaking on behalf of the country’s eight main unions after they stood down for barely an hour. after the start of the talks.
It was the first such gathering between the two sides since the government introduced the controversial Pensions Bill in January.
Although she refused to budge on the issue, Borne said she would not move forward on any other work-related topic “without social partners.”
“We are living through a serious democratic crisis,” said Laurent Berger, head of the centrist trade union CFDT.
Macron is on a visit to China for the rest of the week, where an aide denied there was a ‘democratic crisis’ in France given that the change in pensions featured in Macron’s manifesto during the presidential elections in the UK. last year.
“You can’t talk about a democratic crisis when the bill has been enacted, explained to the public and the government takes responsibility for it,” said the assistant, on condition of anonymity.
Union leaders called on the French to take to the streets and strike en masse on Thursday.
However, turnout in the previous round of strikes and protests last Tuesday was down from the previous week. A record number of people, more than 1.2 million, marched against the reform across the country on March 7.
Meanwhile, the Paris metro is on a strike day for the first time, supposed to operate with minimal disruption, according to operator RATP.
Sophie Binet, the new leader of the CGT union, has called for more protests and strikes.
“We must continue to mobilize until the end, until the government understands that there is no other way out than to withdraw this reform,” she declared.
“The government will not be able to govern the country until this reform is repealed.”
Only 20% of teachers are expected to strike on Thursday, the Snuipp-FSU union said.
On Wednesday, activists unfurled a banner atop the capital’s Arc de Triomphe, reading “No to 64”.
The government has argued that the changes are necessary to prevent the pension system from sliding into deficit.
In the rest of Europe, most people retire in their late 60s because life expectancy has increased.
Critics say the pension reform is unfair to workers in difficult jobs who start their careers early, as well as to women who take time off from working life to raise children.
If the Constitutional Council gives the green light on April 14, Macron will be able to sign the legislative amendments.
But the deadlock has eroded his popularity, with a poll on Wednesday suggesting far-right leader Marine Le Pen would beat him if last year’s presidential election is repeated now.
The Elabe Group survey for news channel BFMTV indicated that Le Pen would get 55% and Macron 45% if they face each other in a second round.