March 23, 2023

Pensions: the chaotic journey of a highly contested reform

As early as the presidential election last year, Emmanuel Macron had promised to postpone the legal retirement age to 64 or 65 years old. The Head of State and his government, led by Elisabeth Borne, then dithered over the method and the messages sent to public opinion hostile to the reform. The executive also had to face the united front of the unions, the strategy of parliamentary obstruction of the left and the unexpected divisions of the Republican deputies.

March-April 2022 – the presidential campaign marker

Entering the campaign late, Emmanuel Macron, throws a stone into the pond in March 2022 by indicating that he intends to postpone the retirement age from 62 to 65 years in nine years. Exit, therefore, the great “systemic” reform and its universal regime which had occupied a large part of the first five-year term and had finally been abandoned due to the Covid crisis.

On the other hand, the president-candidate takes up the idea of ​​making a gesture for small pensions. In the between-two-rounds, confronted with the candidate of the RN, Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron softens his proposal. He opens the door to retirement at 64 and says he is ready to discuss the pace of his reform which will remain as one of the main markers of his campaign.

September 2022 – The temptation to force through the Social Security budget

Returned to the Elysée, Emmanuel Macron fails to have a legislative majority in the Assembly. In July, the Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne, defends an “essential reform”. However, it does not specify whether retirement could be postponed to 64 or 65 and does not give a timetable.

After the summer, and the projections of the Pensions Orientation Council highlighting a deficit in the system, the subject is back on the table. The executive justifies its reform project by the need for “massive investments” to be made for climate transition, health, education. Emmanuel Macron is very tempted to postpone the legal age via an amendment to the Social Security budget and the use of Article 49.3 of the Constitution. The idea, however, is causing a stir in the majority. François Bayrou steps up to oppose it.

At the end of September, the government announced the launch of consultations with the unions, to the satisfaction of the latter.

October 2022 – Unions consulted but still under attack

On October 5, the Minister of Labour, Olivier Dussopt, and his advisers began to receive the unions without leaking the government project, supposed to be unveiled in mid-December. The sensitive subject of the balance of the pension scheme, and therefore of the shift in the retirement age and the increase in the duration of contributions, is postponed until the end of the consultation.

Discussions focus first on hardship and on so-called social justice measures. While discussing the technical points, the unions unite against the idea of ​​postponing the age.

Arguing for the holding of professional elections in the public service and changes at the head of political parties, Emmanuel Macron finally announces a postponement of the presentation of his project to January 10.

January 2023 – The milestone of 64 years setElisabeth Borne enters the arena on this date by detailing her project in front of the press. It is finally recorded: the legal age must be postponed from 62 to 64 years, and the duration of contributions necessary to leave at full rate will increase more quickly than expected. Over the weeks, the government has given up justifying its reform by the need to make massive investments. From now on, it is about “preserving the pay-as-you-go pension system” threatened by deficits. “Each euro contributed will be used to finance our pensions, nothing else”, assures the executive.

In an attempt to convince French people whom she knows are hostile to her reform, the Prime Minister insists that she is “fair” and wants to be careful to cushion the shock. Even before the bill was presented to the Council of Ministers, she indicated that the increase in the minimum pension will not only concern new retirees but also current retirees.

In the process, the eight major trade union organizations call for a first demonstration on January 19. They immediately score a big blow by mobilizing just over 1 million people, according to the police. In the weeks that followed, the mobilization grew and polls followed one another to demonstrate the very marked hostility of the French to the reform.

February 2023 ​- The government forced to let go

While the text begins to be discussed in the Assembly at the end of January, the LR group, supposed to support the idea of ​​a pension reform, quickly displays its divisions. Several of its members criticize an unjust reform according to them and threaten not to vote for it.

Taken to task by the deputy Aurélien Pradié, on the very technical question of the early retirement scheme for the French who started working early, the government agrees to a first enlargement of the scheme at the beginning of February. Then he is forced to make a new commitment to expand this system.

The debate in the hemicycle is chaotic. More than 20,000 amendments have been tabled, reminders of regulations, interpellations and interruptions of the session follow one another. The government is being criticized for penalizing women’s pensions and lying about the minimum pension of 1,200 euros.

Despite the reluctance within the left, La France Insoumise pursues a strategy of systematic opposition to the end. The debates stop on February 17, in chaos, in the night without the text having been completely examined. The deputies did not even vote on article 7 postponing the retirement age.

March 2023 – The Senate leaves its mark

The government knows it can count on the right-wing majority in the Senate to support it. The latter has voted the principle of a reform several times in recent years. However, the senators intend to imprint their mark on the text and negotiate provisions in favor of women, in particular a surcharge for the pension of mothers.

At the same time, the unions continue to mobilize, with a new massive demonstration on March 7.

Despite assurances given by the Socialists at the start of the discussion, the left in the Senate is also playing for time. The tension, less strong than in the Assembly, is still palpable. The executive draws on March 10 the blocked vote or single vote described by the left as “a 49-3 senatorial”.

The discussion continues at a brisk pace on March 11, as the unions fail to refuel during a new day of mobilization. Finally, the text is voted in the night with 195 votes for against 112.

March 15, 2023 – CMP agreement

Three days after the vote on the reform in the Senate, deputies and senators meet in a joint committee (CMP) to try to reach an agreement on the reform. An agreement is hardly in doubt but the debates, behind closed doors, stretch over more than 8 hours.

The government is planning a new sleight of hand between the old age branch and the industrial accident branch to complete the financing of the reform, up to 700 million euros. This final version is voted in the Senate.

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