French President Emmanuel Macron may be backing down from some of his proposed pension reform plans following mass demonstrations this week and an ongoing transit strike that continues to cripple Paris.
The news comes a day after union activists cut electricity to nearly 100,000 homes and offices in France and Eiffel Tower staff walked off the job. Across the country, thousands of workers on Tuesday -- lighting red flares and marching beneath a blanket of multi-colored union flags -- took their protest through cities from Brittany on the Atlantic to the Pyrenees in the south.
An aide to the embattled French leader told reporters on Wednesday that “the President... won't abandon the project” yet he is “willing to improve it”.
Macron’s proposals – which have sparked weeks of protests in France – are aimed at unifying the country's 42 different pension regimes into a single one, which would abolish special provisions allowing certain workers to retire as early as in their 50s. They would also keep the system financially viable.
The French government on Wednesday didn't rule out potential changes to its plan to delay the age of retirement on full pension by two years, from 62 to 64. That proposal has been the main cause of discontent.
Recent polls show a majority of the French support the strikes and protests against the new system, which they fear will make them work longer in return for lower pensions.
“We must find a compromise,” Macron's aide told the Associated Press.
The government wants a “pause” in transport strikes during Christmas holidays, but expects new street protests at the beginning of next year “because this is the normal course of things, ” he added.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is set to hold negotiations later today with unions and employers' organizations on potential amendments to the reform package.
The government plans to formally present the pension bill in January. The text will then need to be approved by parliament, where Macron’s party has the majority.
Macron himself is not planning to get involved in the negotiations nor to make any announcement in the coming days.
On Wednesday, he appointed a junior minister for pensions, Laurent Pietraszewski, a 53-year-old lawmaker with expertise on the issue.
The nomination comes after the senior politician who had developed the new pension system, Jean-Paul Delevoye, resigned Monday over potential conflicts of interest in a major blow to the government.
Hard left unions strongly reject Macron's project and have called for persevering with the strikes during the holidays.
But the government had long hoped that France’s largest union, the center-left, reformist CFDT, would back the project.
CFDT Secretary-General Laurent Berger has said he was in favor of a “universal and fair” new system, but that delaying the age of retirement was a “red line." His union joined the protest movement last week after the government detailed the planned measures.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.