France prepares for Monday for yet another day of mass protests and strikes over the proposed pension reforms championed by President Emmanuel Macron as the government and its left-wing opponents trade blame for the expected failure.
Some 1.1 million people took to the streets on the first day of the strike on January 19, according to official statistics, the largest demonstration since the last major round of pension reform under right-wing President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2010.
A police source told AFP news agency that security forces were expecting 240 nationwide demonstrations on Tuesday with similarly large crowds, in addition to mass strikes in transport, education and other services.
As unions warn more shutdowns are coming, the strikes are a major test for Macron as he seeks to implement the show politics of his second term.
Presidential ministers and their opponents are desperate to sway public opinion ahead of what is expected to be a bitter and costly standoff if more strikes are called next month.
Senior far-left MP Mathilde Pano of the Insubdued France (LFI) party accused Macron and his ministers of being responsible for stopping public transport and other services.
“These are the ones who want to wreak havoc in the country,” she told BFM TV, and also criticized Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin’s comments over the weekend as a “provocation.”
Darmanin, a close ally of Macron, said on Saturday that left-wing political parties “are only looking to screw up the country” and advocate “idleness and socialism with champagne.”
– Macron’s reputation –
The most controversial part of the proposed reform is raising the minimum retirement age to 64 from the current level of 62, the lowest in any major European economy.
Macron amended that campaign manifesto last April and insists it is necessary to guarantee future funding for a pension system that is projected to run into deficits in the next few years.
Opponents point out that the system is currently balanced and that the head of the independent Pensions Advisory Board recently told Parliament that “pension spending is not out of control, it is relatively limited.”
For a pro-business Macron who has repeatedly told the French they “need to work harder,” analysts say failing to make headway with a signed offer will seriously damage his credibility before the end of his second and final term.
The government, led by Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne, signaled there was room for maneuver on some measures as parliamentary committees began deliberating on the bill on Monday.
Conditions could be improved for people who started working very early, as well as for mothers who interrupted their careers to look after their children and for people who invested in further education, Born suggested.
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But the age limit of 64 is non-negotiable, she said on Sunday, calling it “non-negotiable.”
Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, warned that Born “cannot remain deaf to this formidable mobilization”.
“Listen, listen, listen to this discontent,” he told France 2 television.
Macron has so far commented relatively little on tensions, keen to stay out of the fray of the daily debate.
Darmanin’s intervention did little to ease tensions: the minister told the daily Le Parisien on Saturday that the left was defending the idea of a “society without labor and effort.”
– Parliamentary battle –
On Tuesday, most Paris metros and suburban trains will be severely restricted, operator RATP said, while intercity travel will be severely disrupted by only one out of three high-speed TGV trains, according to SNCF.
Air travel was less affected, with Air France saying it would cancel one in ten flights for short and medium hauls, while adding long hauls would have no effect.
Only minor disruptions to international Thalys and Eurostar trains are expected.
Macron and his allies are also facing infighting in parliament and on the streets.
The leftist opposition introduced more than 7,000 amendments to the bill in an attempt to slow its progress through parliament.
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Macron’s centrist allies, who lack an absolute majority in parliament, will need conservative votes to approve their pension plan.
A new poll by research group OpinionWay, published on Monday in the newspaper Les Echos, found that 61% of French people supported the protest movement, up 3.0 percentage points from January 12.
Darmanin said 11,000 police officers, including 4,000 in Paris, would be deployed across France on Tuesday to ensure the peaceful demonstrations.