French President Emmanuel Macron publicly addressed the nation on Monday over his pension reform after weeks of strikes and protests throughout the country. Macron defended his decision and promised a better future for France.
“Has this reform been accepted? Obviously not,” the president said in a pre-recorded statement that aired on French national television on Monday evening—two days after he signed the pension reform into law.
Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 failed to gain support from other political parties. The absence of a parliamentary majority eventually compelled Macron to resort to special constitutional powers to force his pension overhaul through.
The president’s actions sparked weeks of protests, bringing millions of people of all political leanings onto the streets.
Marine Le Pen, of the right-wing National Rally, called for either a referendum on the reform, the dissolution of parliament, or Macron’s resignation, while the leader of the Socialist Party, Olivier Faure, promised the opposition was not going to let the issue go.
The moment Macron’s address to the nation aired, protesters took to the streets banging pots and pans, shouting: “Macron resign!” Large crowds were soon marching through the streets of cities such as Paris, Toulouse, Marseilles, Rennes, and Nantes. Fires were lit as riot police fought to restore order.
“A consensus wasn’t found, and I regret that,” Macron said during his speech. “We must draw all the lessons from that.”
Macron reiterated that his decision was based on compensating for increased life expectancies in France. “The answer could not have been to lower the pensions, nor could we increase the contributions of those who work,” Macron said.
The French president added that “doing nothing” was not an option, as “this would lead to an accumulating deficit, and increased debt for future generations. These changes were therefore necessary, and certainly represent an effort.”
Macron said the reform would incorporate just measures and concrete benefits for those with long careers, who had jobs involving hard, physical labor, or who receive small pensions.
“If we all progressively work a little more,” he said, “it also means producing more wealth for our whole country.” Macron explained that he wished France to remain financially independent from speculators or foreign powers, a goal that cannot be willed into being “by decree.”
Macron said he regretted that his pension reform was badly received, but that he also interpreted the protests as a symptom of more general public dissatisfaction with working conditions, limited career options, and the inability to live well while employed.
“This is the great project that I bring before you,” Macron said, “to rebuild and rediscover the momentum of our nation.”
Macron promised reforms of higher education to better prepare students for the labor market, a doubling of the effort to get the unemployed back to work, solutions to professional fatigue, less bureaucracy, more career opportunities, better wages, and “concrete measures” to improve daily life.
The French president then invited employers’ organizations and trade unions to present to him any and all ideas that could help reinvigorate France.
Macron said he hopes to have a first evaluation ready by July 14th, France’s national day. “We have ahead of us 100 days of appeasement, unity, ambition, and action for France,” he said.
Union leaders have now urged the public to turn May 1st workers’ parades into a giant protest against the pension reform.
Opinion polls show Macron’s popularity at its lowest level in four years.
What seems likely to be contributing to the public ire is that the retirement age was already raised once, thirteen years ago—from 60 to 62—by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy. According to some analysts, the decision may have been the deciding factor in his failure to win re-election in 2012.