“I don’t think the strikes will have a really important economic impact on the French economy,” Le Maire told Bloomberg TV at the World Economic Forum in Davos, adding that the French economy was “doing well”.
Trade unions claim more than two million people marched through French cities on Thursday to denounce President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age, with a wave of nationwide strikes halting trains, blocking refineries and curbing power generation.
The interior ministry put the total number of protesters at 1.2 million – in what the government conceded was a large turnout.
France’s trade unions have banded together in a rare show of unity against the unpopular reform, which polls say a large majority of the French oppose. Unions have called for a new day of nationwide protests on January 31, but the government has shown no sign of backing down.
“We strongly believe this reform is a necessity for France. It is the best way of ensuring more prosperity for the French people,” Le Maire said in Davos, though adding that the government would have an “open” mindset regarding talks over the change.
The pension reform would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 and would increase the years of contributions required for a full pension. The reform still needs to go through parliament, where Macron has lost his absolute majority but is hoping to get it passed with the support of conservative MPs.
Macron‘s last attempt at pension reform in 2019 was shelved a year later when Covid-19 hit Europe. But it had already prompted the longest strike on the Paris transport network in three decades.
The 45-year-old former banker vowed to press ahead with plans to push back the retirement age during his re-election campaign last year, pointing to forecasts that the system could fall into deficit at the end of the decade. But unions say there are other ways of financing pensions and argue that the proposed reform is unfair to those who started working at a young age or have been toiling in physically demanding jobs.
>> ‘I can’t take any more’: Working-class French lament Macron’s push to raise retirement age
(FRANCE 24 with Reuters, AFP)
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