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Lawmakers begin debate on French pension reforms amid public anger

China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-19 09:03
Protesters attend a demonstration in front of the glass Pyramid of the Louvre museum before the opening debate on the French government's pensions reform bill at the National Assembly in Paris on Monday. CHARLES PLATIAU/REUTERS

French lawmakers on Monday began the opening round of a fierce debate on legislation underpinning President Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms that triggered mass protests and France's longest transport strike in decades.

Olivier Veran, the newly appointed solidarity and health minister, told the National Assembly that the reforms have the legitimacy of both a presidential project and a consultation.

"And I hope it will, in the near future, have a large legitimacy given by lawmakers," he said.

He said the reforms are backed by immense ambition, as a universal pension system "is the pillar of social protection".

However, lawmakers opposed to the bill proposed a record 41,000 amendments. Several hundred protesters took to the streets in Paris on Monday, though the trade unions' call for a strike on the metro system that day went unheeded.

Macron's government has proposed a pension plan with the same rules for all workers, regardless of their profession or employment sector. Forty-two pension systems would be consolidated into one.

Macron also wants to raise to 64-from the current 62-the retirement age at which people qualify for a full pension. In early December, public-sector workers-from the railways and hospitals to schools and airports-took to the streets after learning details of the plan. Their protests lasted six weeks.

France's official retirement age has been raised from 60 to 62 over the past decade but remains one of the lowest among OECD nations.

Compromises offered

Macron, who promised to reform the pension system in his 2017 election campaign, has vowed to stick to his plans. But the government has offered to make compromises in a bid to appease the public-sector workers, including a temporary removal of the "pivotal age" of 64-the most contentious element of his proposals.

Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the France Unbowed party, had pledged a "tough, relentless and long-lasting" debate at the National Assembly on Monday. "We will do everything we can to prevent this law from being passed," he said.

He Yun, an assistant professor at Hunan University's School of Public Administration, said that the debate would not last too long, as the government wants to get the bill through Parliament before municipal elections next month.

She said that Macron is unlikely to make further concessions. As long as he sticks to the plan, then the bill will finally be passed.

"Macron's party has a comfortable majority in the Parliament and can force the bill through with an executive decree," she said.

"Moreover, French unions and Macron's government have critical differences in key elements. If Macron makes concessions on those elements, then the pension reform plan will be significantly watered down to the point that it makes no sense anymore."

Chen Yingqun, Xinhua and Agencies contributed to this story.

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