Macron slammed for ‘brutal’ tactics as demands grow for him to ditch pension reforms

The plan to streamline the country’s byzantine retirement system has irked unions and the opposition, who fear the changes will force people to work longer for a smaller pension.

“France is going through a democratic crisis,” Ms Royal told LCI television when asked to comment on the controversial pension reform, which has led to a wave of strikes and protests.

“There is a form of brutality in the government’s approach to the pension overhaul,” she said, as she called on Mr Macron to “accept a common sense solution and withdraw his whole plan”.

She added: “The government is responsible for the climate of unrest. It can either allow chaos to continue; or have the humility to drop the reform – the choice is obvious. I’m convinced the country can be reformed in a more peaceful manner.”

“The French social model is dangerously threatened,” the veteran leftist told AFP in a separate interview on Friday.

“There is a sentiment of distress among citizens,” Ms Royal said, adding that a majority of French people still support the protest movement against the reform because “they know the welfare system is at risk”.

Ms Royal is one of Mr Macron’s fiercest critics. She was fired from her role as ambassador for the North and South Poles last week for repeatedly criticising his government’s policies.

The 48-day strike action against the pension overhaul, however, appears to be losing steam, with most Paris metro and national SNCF train services now back up and running.

Striking employees of Paris’s public transport operator RATP voted to resume work for financial reasons after going for weeks without pay, Unsa-RATP union representative Laurent Djebali said, before insisting there was “no question” of ending the strike altogether.

But while the return to normal marked a victory for the Macron administration, which has refused to back down in the pensions battle, opposition to the overhaul has taken a radical turn.

The biggest union at the state-owned SNCF, the hardline CGT, has attempted to inject fresh momentum into the protest action in the face of dwindling participation.

On Monday, scores of CGT members gathered near the Palace of Versailles, the former residence of French kings, to disrupt a foreign investment summit being hosted by Mr Macron.

Two days earlier, protesters opposed to the pension plan tried force their way into a theatre where Mr Macron attended a show with his wife.

The battle is “far from over,” a spokesperson for the union’s rail arm, CGT-Cheminots, said at the weekend, warning many train drivers would down tools again on Friday, when the pension reform bill is to be officially unveiled.

The strike action had already begun to fizzle out following a string of concessions by the government several weeks ago, namely the withdrawal of its contentious plan to raise the retirement age for full pension benefits by two years to 64.

The concession was a key demand of France’s biggest union, the moderate CFDT, which unlike the CGT supports the plan to merge the country’s 42 separate pension schemes into a single, points-based system and swiftly dropped its strike call.

Critics of the pension reform say the changes will force millions to work longer for a smaller payout. Mr Macron, for his part, argues that the reform is needed to whittle down the pension deficit and make the debt-ridden system fairer and more sustainable.

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