France’s Macron to launch controversial pension overhaul

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French President Emmanuel Macron has held a special government meeting to discuss ways to launch an overhaul of the pension system that has the potential to raise the ire of the so-called yellow vest protesters.

Macron gathered government members Wednesday at the president’s Elysee Palace in the presence of High Commissioner Jean-Paul Delevoye, who was appointed this week to drive the reform program.

Macron has said the changes would make the public pension system “fairer.”

The French pensions system is widely expected to fall into deficit over the coming decade and the government is under pressure to make it more sustainable for the future. The government also wants to apply the same rules to all new pensioners in order to replace the 42 different systems specific to certain jobs.

Macron has promised the legal retirement age will remain at 62 but new conditions might in effect mean those entering retirement in the future may have to work longer.

The average French pension this year stands at 1,400 euros per month ($1,500 per month) once taxes are deducted, according to a government report.

The reforms have the potential to re-ignite the yellow vest movement, which petered out during the summer after months of protests against Macron’s economic reform program.

Some labor unions have voiced worries that the proposed pension changes will make people work longer and reduce pensions.

Strikes and protests have already been scheduled for this month.

The most recent major reform of the pension system, in 2010 under conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, led to massive demonstrations - some with more than one million people on the streets.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe will meet with workers unions and employer organizations later this week.

Ordinary people will also be able to take part in the debate through public meetings with government members and contributions on a specific website, Philippe said in a news conference on Wednesday.

The process is inspired by the “grand debate” launched by Macron in response to the yellow vest protests so the French could express their views on France’s economy and democracy, in an effort to ease the tensions in the country.

Macron’s popularity rates are on the rise after reaching record lows when the yellow vest crisis broke out at the end of last year.

Most recent polls show approval rates up around 10 percentage points around 43 percent.