Heaps of filth, strikes and protest could not deter French President Emmanuel Macron from pushing through with a pension reform that seventy percent of the populace have held their noses at.
The Constitutional Council’s approval of the bill late Friday, April 14, 2023, gave Macron the green light to enact the bill into law. This, Macron executed swifty in the early hours of Saturday, April 15, 2023. Macron had 15 days to enact the bill.
The newly enacted bill stipulates that people in the country will go on retirement at age 64, a raise from the former 62, only then will they enjoy their full pension benefits.
When the French President proposed a raise in the retirement age, the populace, majority of lawmakers included, instantly registered their disapproval, plunging the country into three months of widespread protests and strikes. Towers of refuse embellished the streets during a strike by rubbish collectors. The pandemonium caused the postponement of King Charles’ visit to the country.
The government stands by its claim that requiring people to work two years more before qualifying for a pension was needed to keep the pension system afloat as the population ages.
Even with the new retirement age, France is still below the average in Europe and other economically developed countries. Most have a retirement age of 65.For example, in the U.K., the state pension age for those born on or after April 1960 is currently 66, but the number will begin to gradually increase to 67 in May 2026. In the U.S., the full retirement age for Social Security is transitioning to 67, while eligibility for health care coverage under Medicare begins at 65. Germany’s average retirement age is 65.
Yet, the French are vehemently against it. This is because, the hike in the retirement age simply translates to more contributions and two more years to wait to finally grasp the reward of their labour, so to say. This, they are not so thrilled about.
As life expectancy continues to rise in the European countries, a pensioner can enjoy pension benefits for a relatively long time before he drops dead. With more people retiring, it has become more difficult for the number of active workers to support the pension system because taxes gain from active workers fund the pension system. This informs the decision to raise the age so that more contributions can be garnered.
Nonetheless, many countries in Africa including South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria have pegged their mandatory retirement age at 60. Currently, some are mulling over increasing the age to enjoy pension benefits. In Nigeria for instance, plans have been initiated to increase the retirement age of teachers and doctors from 60 to 65.
However, a surge in retirement age will be unfair to Africans who have lower life expectancy rates compared to Europeans. According to Statista, in 2022, the average life expectancy in Africa was 61 years on average for males and 64 for females whereas Europe has a life expectancy of 75 for males and 81 for females. Countries from across the African regions dominate the list of countries with the lowest life expectancy worldwide.
Raising the retirement age to 65, for instance, would cause the unemployment situation in the countries, to aggravate. Old people will still retain their jobs whiles the youth, especially those freshly churned out by the various universities, have no jobs to take. As such, people must retire early, so others can occupy those spaces.
Repercussions Of The Pension Reform
In his pursuit of a competitive economy, Macron has become an object of disdain in the eyes of his people, having held unto the pension reforms and finally enacting it.
The spontaneous protest that erupted after the constitutional council approved the bill is a sure indicator that the end of protests are nowhere in sight. Protest will persist in parts of the country. This will dent the peace and relative stability in France. They may become more violent and affect human lives.
Also, the economy risks serious challenges. As people refuse to go to work during strikes, productivity is affected, which in turn affects economy output.
Macron’s relentless hold on the reform could spell doom for his party, La République En Marche! (LREM). Macron became the first French Presidential candidate to win reelection since President Jacques Chirac, when he was elected to a second term in the 2022 presidential election. Macron cannot stand again because he is term limited. However, anyone who decides to contest on his party’s ticket will face the people’s ire and may not get any votes.
Even though, Macron developed a thick skin through protests, how to get back into his peoples’ good books will be an interesting puzzle for him to solve. The French President is slated to address the state on Monday, April 17, 2023. Let us hope that his speech will quench the people’s fury.
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