French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that he heard people’s anger over raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, but insisted that it was needed.
In an televised address to the nation, Macron said “this changes were needed to guarantee everyone’s pension,” after he enacted the pension law on Saturday.
“Gradually working more is also producing more wealth for our whole country,” he added.
Macron acknowledged anger over increasing prices and jobs that don’t “allow too many French people to live well.”
The evening address kicks off a likely arduous battle for the French president, who is trying to repair the damage done to his public image and politics by forcing the pension plan through parliament last month.
Before Macron’s speech, opponents to the reform called for people to bang pots and pans across France during his address.
Macron, who just enacted the protest-igniting pension changes, was expected to provide details about his domestic policies in the coming months.
He said he hopes his address will help the country move away from the period of protests and strikes over the retirement age that threatens the ambitions of his remaining four years in power.
Opponents of the unpopular pension plan called for people to gather in front of city halls to make loud noises during the address, with the rallying cry: “Macron won’t listen to us? We won’t listen to him!”
Such gatherings have been banned by authorities in the cities of Dijon and Marseille, with local prefectures arguing there is a risk of “public disorder.”
Earlier in Marseille, police arrested 13 people after gas and power meters were strewn outside a government building in an unusual trade union demonstration against pension changes. Police police said there was a loud blast as the meters were being dumped and that an officer on guard was hit by flying debris.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Saturday that the government would move ahead with more reforms now that the pension law has been enacted. “In the coming weeks and months … we are determined to accelerate,” she told the national council of Macron’s Renaissance party.
The government has notably started working on a bill meant to improve employees’ working conditions and bringing the unemployment rate down to around 5% — one of Macron’s commitments. France unemployment rate recently reached 7.2%, its lowest rate since 2008.
Weakened in parliament, where his centrist alliance lost its absolute majority in legislative elections last year, Macron’s government needs to get support from lawmakers from diverse political forces to push ahead with his program. That’s likely to be an uphill task in the uproarious climate of protest sparked by his retirement changes that pick at France’s cherished social safety net.
Borne said Saturday she was “convinced” it was still “possible” to pass bills at parliament by negotiating with lawmakers from the left and the right on a case by case basis.
Labor unions that have been at the forefront of protests, mobilizing millions of marchers in 12 days of nationwide demonstrations and strikes since January, are vowing to fight on. They called for another mass protest on May 1, which is International Workers’ Day.
The pension changes were enacted into law Saturday, the day after the country’s constitutional body rejected some parts of the legislation but approved the higher minimum retirement age.
That key change — central to Macron’s plan and the focus of opponents’ protests — was intended to be a showcase measure of Macron’s second term. But it has come at significant cost to the French president: opinion polls show his popularity has plunged to its lowest level in four years.
His government argued that requiring people to work two years more before qualifying for a pension was needed to keep the pension system afloat as the population ages. Opponents proposed raising taxes on the wealthy or employers instead.