President Macron’s attempt to increase the pension age from 62 to 64 has been met with widespread criticism. France is currently embroiled in strikes and protests. This, in turn, led to the cancellation of King Charles’ state visit to France. We discuss why there is so much opposition to pension reform and how it might be remedied. Finally, we touch on what this means for you, if you claim either a French or British pension in France.
What is the French pension reform?
France’s pension reform, which President Macron put through the National Assembly recently, has been met with fierce opposition across the country. The plan to raise the age of retirement from 62 to 64 was revealed in January. It was met with resistance from many labour unions. The fact that it will now become law has invoked widespread discord and protests with resistance from many labour unions as well as strikes across the working sector.
In a nutshell, what happened was that Macron invoked Article 49.3 from the French Constitution. This allowed the government to pass a bill without any National Assembly vote. Having forced the new measure through the National Assembly to get around any majority vote not being on the cards, Macron managed to survive a no confidence vote, effectively meaning the pension plan will become law.
France has one of the lowest retirement ages in Europe. From a British point of view, it may seem unreasonable that so many French citizens object to a raising of the pension age from 62 to 64. However, many people feel that their rights are being compromised on a regular basis. The strikes have spilled over into objections from transportation workers, teachers, waste collectors, oil refinery workers and students.
Why so much opposition to the pension reform?
To some extent this is in the French psyche – one only needs to think of the huge protests in Paris back in 1968. The French as a nation are far more vocal in their opinions. They see it as a right to make their points heard countrywide in the form of protests.
The plan that President Macron has now invoked was really not a surprise. As there have been regular talks about pension reform going on for many years. The argument for raising the age of official retirement mainly rests with meaning other measures such as raising taxes would not need to be implemented. It is argued that this reform will be the best and least painful way of maintaining economic stability. However that view is not accepted by very many in France, who see it as an affront to their basic rights.
There has also been opposition from various quarters politically, notably from the far right party of Marine Le Pen as well as the far left party of Jean-Luc Melenchon. Countering this, the French Government have stated that it would be irresponsible not to do this reform in the long term.
Why King Charles’ state visit to France was cancelled
King Charles’ first state visit abroad as King had been scheduled for France. He and Queen Camilla had been due to travel to Paris and attend a banquet in Versailles as well as going on to Bordeaux during the third week of March. Right up until the last minute, this remained the plan until President Macron allegedly spoke to King Charles the day before they had been due to arrive. Macron advised Charles that the visit would not be sensible in the light of current circumstances. Several threats of disruption to their visit abounded and the general feeling was that the state visit would at this time have caused huge embarrassment on both sides of the Channel.
Some commentators in France could not help but reminisce about Marie Antionette enjoying a banquet whilst the rest of Paris revolted. Jean-Luc Melenchon went further and, seeming to vocalise the feelings of many French people, announced that “We have 2 kings today, 1 in England and 1 in France.”
Protests and strikes ongoing
Many of the trade unions in France have agreed to meet with Elizabeth Borne, the French prime minister, this week. Another day of strike action is planned for Thursday April 6th. But the meeting with the prime minster is an important one in that it hopefully will lead to a positive outcome. The French public are generally upset with Macron’s government. However, Macron is unlikely to back down on this reform.
President Macron’s rating with the public now stands at its lowest since his re-election in 2022.
UK pensions for expats
None of the current protests nor the reform of the French pension system affects British expats’ UK pensions. You are perfectly entitled to have your UK pension paid into a nominated euro account or your sterling account in the UK.
If you are entitled to a French pension then the reform means that the age at which you are entitled to draw down your pension will be 64 rather than 62 if it becomes law.
Furthermore, we recommend using Smart Currency Exchange to have a regular transfer from your euro account to your sterling account for your French pension. This will mean that your pension is not subject to currency fluctuations.
The demonstrations have been going on in France since January and according to the latest polls, there is huge support for the unions and little sign of any slowing down. The Constitutional Council which is France’s watchdog will shortly decide if the new reform is legally in line with the Constitution and if a possible referendum on the changes will be permitted. It has the power to reject the changes and its decision will be announced on 14th April.
Meanwhile President Macron’s rating with the public now stands at its lowest since his re-election in 2022. It remains to be seen how this will all resolve itself. Political debates and public protests of course do exist in other European countries. However, France, with its history of disruptive demonstrations, seems to be the most vocal.