Elizabeth Borne announced the new pension reform – and unleashed a storm in French politics. The prime minister wants to raise the pension age up to 64 during the upcoming 7 years. The Renaissance party, formerly known as La République en marche, completely supports the idea, while the left-wing opposition gathered around Jean-Luc Mélenchon and trade unions such as Confédération Générale du Travail call for the general strike on the 19th of January. Once more, Macron and his court goes on the war with the French working people and trade unions. Will he win, or will it be yet another futile approach to dismantle the French welfare state?  

After all reorganising and rewriting that has accompanied this project, Borne presented the final version on the 10 January, right into the new year. The main aspects of the reform have been presented personally by the prime minister. She said that she counts on “honest and constructive” parliamentary debate, saying she was ready to “make the project move forward”. Her government is going to present the project at the parliamentary session on 23 January. While she was presenting the whole case, she was accompanied by three other ministers, showing that the entire cabinet – the cabinet of millionaires – was unanimously after it.  

The essence of the project? Raising the age of statutory opening of pension rights, from 1 September 2023, from 62 to 64. The shift will be gradual and spread over eight years. The aim would be reached in 2030. At the end of the five-year period, the retirement age will be 63 years and three months. What would be the final threshold, is still, partially, a mystery: Elisabeth Borne said the age of 65 “was never an end in itself” and that some changes might still be introduced.

Of course, there is the question of the length of contributions required for a full pension. Here the government is proposing a significant acceleration of the Touraine reform, at the rate of one quarter per year from now on. From 2027, you will need to have contributed for 43 years. Promulgated in 2014, but set in motion in 2020, the Touraine reform progressively lengthens the number of quarters required to obtain a full pension. Of course, its trajectory could be one of the parameters potentially affected by the government’s reform. 

For those whose professional career was interrupted and who had not worked long enough, the retirement age would be 67. Borne claims that “it is protection for the most vulnerable”.

Sweeteners  

“I am convinced that the project I have presented is a project that both ensures the future of our pension system and that it is a project of justice and social progress”

– said Elisabeth Borne on Saturday, interviewed by France Inter.

Likewise she did during the conference, when she said that her reform is “a measure of justice, balance and progress”. In the media, however, we can read essays about whether the reform really reduces gender inequality.  And this is what the reform promises: measures for women include the inclusion of parental leave in the calculation of years of contributions. Despite some progress, female pensioners still receive less than their male counterparts.  

“Overall, no,” says Rachel Silvera, a senior lecturer and economist at the University of Paris-Nanterre and co-director of the Labour Market and Gender research network (MAGE), interviewed by La Tribune.

“There are effects which are, in my opinion, unfair and which reinforce inequalities for all the most disadvantaged and modest categories who entered the labour market early, and of which women are part. It is therefore a double penalty for those who are the least qualified and who occupy the most arduous jobs,”

– she said to La Tribune, pointing to the postponement of the retirement age from 62 to 64 years.  

What is more, the so-called balanced offer has yet another dimension. “We cannot require everyone to work uniformly longer” – said the Prime Minister. According to this, the government wants to improve the long-career programme. Right now, it targets people who started working before the age of 20 or 16. A new threshold of 18 years is proposed by the Borne. In 2030, when the legal age is raised to 64, the retirement age of 58 will be maintained for workers who started work at 16. If they started their career between 16 and 18, retirement at 60 will be possible. For those who started their career between 18 and 20, retirement will be possible from 62. 

There is a sweet cake for those against the reform. This move could indeed raise the minimum pension for the workers with low income, who now get 85% of the minimum wage netto, so around 1200 euro. “Almost two million small pensions will be increased” – Elisabeth Borne promised. The other sweetener is revalorization of the pension of pensioners who had income around the minimum wage. She said also that this point must be discussed with Les Républicains, the party that is counted on by the government in the entire process of legislation.  

However, there is some uncertainty about the question of a minimum pension of 1,200 euros. In the article published in Ouest-France, minister of Labour Olivier Dussopt explains how the minimum pension comes as a pension for the sector retirees who have the “full rate”, and it will be, according to the reform, 1,200 euros. However, the government plans to increase this minimum contribution to €100, for pensions taking effect from 1 September 2023. 

According to the Minister of the Economy and Finance, Bruno Le Maire, those changes will positively affect the balance of the French budget. In 2030 alone, they will give in €17.7 billion for pension funds in 2030, of which €13.5 billion will be needed to ensure balance by that date. The surplus will be used to finance accompanying measures (long careers, hardship programs) and new rights (revaluation of small pensions up to €1,200). “I confirm that every euro paid in will go to the pension funds and only to the pension funds”. – promised the minister at Elisabeth Borne’s conference.

Opposition  

Postponement of the retirement age. Increase in annuities. Abolition of advantageous special pension systems. The #Macron #Borne reform is a serious social regression

– tweeted Jean-Luc Melanchon, representing more than two thirds of French people (68%) who are against the postponement to 64 years, according to an Ifop-Fiducial poll.  

The eight main trade unions, upwind against the reform, met at the same evening on the day the project was released to set up a first day of mobilisation. Symbolically gathered at the Bourse du Travail in Paris, they said that it would take place on Thursday 19 January. All the representatives of the eight national unions joined forces to oppose this anti-social project, hoping together that it would “give the start of a powerful mobilisation in the long term”. 

The last time the unions had concluded such a defensive alliance was in 2010.

Eric Woerth, Nicolas Sarkozy’s Minister of Labour, was then aiming to raise the legal retirement age from 60 to 62. Those who did not work long enough would, in his plan, would need to remain active until 67 years to get a full pension.

We must remember that on 12 October 2022, during the Total and Exxon workers’ strike, over a million people went on the streets, following the trade unions’ unanimous call. Then it was about the cost-of-living crisis, now it is going to be about toppling the government and its reform.  

In addition to aforementioned numbers, 62% of French people disagree with the need to work 43 years to be able to benefit from a full-rate pension. 71% are against the extension of the legal retirement age to 64 years. These numerous angers and frustrations should undoubtedly fuel a large protest movement. 

According to Ifop, 51% of French people would be ready to take their disagreements to the streets, joining the unions in their struggle. More than 150 rallies, all over the country, are already planned, from Paris to Marseilles, Rennes and other cities.

There are two tactics creating a big-scale strategy of dismantling the welfare states. First is through rough assault, reforms, imposing flexibility, privatisation etc., or even penalising strikes – Macron just did it a couple of months ago during the Total workers strike – and flat taxing everything that catches neoliberal eyes.

The other tactic is just to do nothing, just waiting while institutions and social contracts, such as workers’ rights and social benefits, remain non-reformed and in the end die off, decay ‘naturally’ – with the public wishing to dismantle them eagerly in the end. Those two strategies are right now in motion on both sides of the La Manche channel. While the English side sees much more turbulent development, with nurse’s strikes and train staff industrial actions, France still waits for the great moment of industrial action. Perhaps we would not be waiting for long.

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