Sun | Jun 16, 2024

Amid massive demonstrations, Macron delays Charles’ visit

Published:Friday | March 24, 2023 | 4:09 PM
Britain's Prince Charles welcomes French president Emmanuel Macron, left, to Clarence House in London, Thursday June 18, 2020. French President Emmanuel Macron’s office on Friday, March 24, 2023, said a state visit by Britain’s King Charles III has been postponed amid mass strikes and protests in France. (Jonathan Brady/Pool via AP, File)

PARIS (AP) — Ongoing unrest across France and calls for a new round of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron's pension plan persuaded officials to postpone a planned state visit next week by Britain's King Charles III.

While a clear disappointment to the royal palace, the decision is also a bad sign for Macron.

The 45-year-old leader is increasingly detested by protesters and contested in parliament, and seen as oblivious to France's souring mood as he sticks to his positions. And that's now hurting his global image, too.

Charles had been scheduled to arrive in France on Sunday to celebrate France and Britain's renewed friendship. But the protests and strikes against Macron's decision to raise France's retirement age from 62 to 64 promised to impact his visit, with some workers refusing to roll out the red carpet for the king's arrival.

Violence soared during Thursday's ninth union-organised nationwide marches. Over 450 protesters were arrested in Paris and beyond, and hundreds of police and demonstrators were injured, as gatherings nationwide drew more than a million people.

There were scattered protest actions on Friday. Train traffic was slowed, rows of trucks blocked access to Marseille's port for several hours and debris littered the streets of Paris.

Macron has made the proposed pension changes the priority of his second term, arguing they are needed to keep the pension system from diving into deficit as France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

Anger over the plan has increasingly turned into broader opposition to Macron's leadership. His insistence this week that the retirement measure be implemented by the end of the year prompted critics to describe him as “self-satisfied” and “out of touch.″

During his first term, Macron's government made other changes it said would make France's labour market more flexible and revitalise the economy. Those included making it easier to hire and fire workers, cutting business taxes, and making it more difficult for the unemployed to claim benefits.

Critics argue the changes fray a social safety net seen as central to France's way of life.

Countries across Europe have been raising pension ages. Retirement rules vary widely from country to country, making direct comparisons difficult. The official retirement age in the US is now 67.

Macron's plan involves multiple adjustments to France's complex pension system. It would also require French people to work 43 years to earn a full pension, or wait until they turn 67, as the law now calls for. Opponents have proposed other solutions, including higher taxes on the wealthy or companies.

The government refused to consider those, however, and forced the bill through parliament last week, using a constitutional power, and the text is now being reviewed by France's Constitutional Council. The forced passage further angered Macron's critics.

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