In New Year’s Eve speech, Macron hopes for 'quick compromise' with unions on pension reform

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his annual televised New Year's Eve address Dec. 31, 2019.
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his annual televised New Year's Eve address Dec. 31, 2019. Martin Bureau, AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that his government would push through a pension overhaul despite fierce protests from unions behind one of the country's biggest transport strikes in decades.


"The pension reform will be carried out," Macron said in a televised address on New Year’s Eve, saying he hoped for a "quick compromise" with union leaders demanding he abandon the plan.

The strike, which has upended travel plans and hit businesses during the holiday season, is proving a key test of Macron's ability to implement his vow to reform France since coming to power in 2017. 

While most French citizens believe the country’s unwieldy pension system needs an overhaul, opinion is divided on the proposals put up by Macron’s government. France’s powerful unions are demanding the French president drop his plan for a single points-based system and a "pivot age" of 64 to benefit from a full pension, above the official retirement age of 62.

The current system has 42 different sector-specific pension schemes, each with different levels of contributions and benefits that includes special benefits for some jobs, such as train drivers, that are considered “difficult”.

"We will take into account difficult tasks so that those who do them can leave earlier," Macron said.

Far-left leader blasts 'declaration of war'

Macron's call for a "Christmas truce" during the ongoing strike went unheeded, and unions have vowed not to back down ahead of renewed talks with the government set for January 7.

They have already called for another day of mass protests on January 9, when teachers, doctors, hospital workers and other public-sector employees will join the strike for the day.

Macron's speech comes a year after the first major attempt at damage control during his presidency, when he used the traditional New Year's address to announce €10 billion ($11.2 billion) in financial relief to try to quell the fiery "yellow vest" anti-government protests.

The concessions have galvanised union leaders to push back hard against the pension reforms, with a strike that is now in its 27th day.

Responding to the speech, France’s far-left politician Jean-Luc Melenchon said on Twitter that
Macron's words were "a declaration of war on those who reject the reform".

‘Solid’ relationship with post-Brexit UK

Macron also tackled foreign policy issues during his traditional New Year’s Eve address, noting that he wanted a strong relationship with post-Brexit Britain.

"The United Kingdom's departure from the European Union is a test for our country. I will strive to maintain a solid relationship between our two countries," said Macron.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)


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