Macron Stands Firm on Pension Reform Despite Criticism and Lack of Consensus

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President Emmanuel Macron of France has defended his pension reform that has been widely unpopular among the people. Speaking for the first time since signing the reform into law, Macron acknowledged the “anger” that the French had experienced over the past three months of protests. Although he expressed regret that no consensus had been found on the change, he defended the reform as “necessary” and insisted that “doing nothing” was not a solution. Polls have consistently recorded a majority of French opposed to the reform, which the government passed using a controversial mechanism to avoid a vote.

As the president spoke, thousands gathered outside town halls across France, banging saucepans in a bid to drown out the speech. Opposition figures from across the board said that Macron’s speech had only reinforced concerns about how the reform was handled. “He chose to turn his back on the French and ignore their suffering,” said far-right figurehead and former presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. CFDT union leader Laurent Berger added that it contained “nothing concrete” for the labour movement and said Macron had “not uttered a word” on easing tensions. Even the head of the right-wing Republicans who supported the reform dismissed the speech as a “catalogue of pious wishes” and said Macron’s “method had clearly not changed”.

Macron’s personal popularity ratings have eroded, with some analysts suggesting that he has given a head start to far-right leader Marine Le Pen down the long path to the 2027 elections. Although unions have spurned an invitation for talks with Macron, he is due to meet employers’ associations at the Elysee. Macron said he had tasked his government led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to lead 100 days of action “at the service of France” to ease tensions and promote unity. He promised “major announcements” during May, including action against juvenile delinquency and also “reinforcing controls against illegal immigration”.

The crisis also comes at a time of increasing challenges on the international stage for Macron, who faced accusations of cosying up to China on a visit to Beijing. Macron, 45, came to power in 2017 promising reform and a fresh new politics. But opponents accuse him of increasingly reclusive and anti-democratic behaviour. “Emmanuel Macron is far from finished from having to deal with the social and political crisis, which he continues to dangerously stir up,” said Le Monde newspaper in an editorial.

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