PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron is behaving like many other politicians. Following massive demonstrations against his enactment of a law raising the retirement age in France from 62 to 64, Macron seems to be taking a page from America’s Democratic Party playbook – If you can’t beat them, bribe them. He announced a pay raise for teachers.
Despite that, teachers refused a meeting Macron hoped would pacify them and help end the protests. The teacher’s union and other opponents have vowed to continue the fight, not only because of the increased retirement age, but also because they say the proposal did not finish a process already in the proper legislative channels. The measure was scheduled for a final parliamentary reading, but when it appeared he would lose that vote, Macron turned to his Constitutional Council, which approved it. More protests are being called for on May 1, International Workers Day.
The retirement measure is deeply unpopular here and Macron’s sliding opinion polls resemble the downward trend of President Joe Biden’s poll numbers. Last year, Macron won the election with 58.5 percent of the vote over conservative Marine Le Pen, who scored a still impressive 41.5 percent. Politico Europe reports that Macron’s approval rating has crashed to 30 percent, while his disapproval has risen to 69 percent.
To a visitor it may seem like the French are a lazy bunch when they oppose raising the retirement age by only two years, but as Reuters reports, “Only 36% of French workers retire at (62) and another 36% already retire older on account of requirements to pay into the system for at least 42 years in order to be able to claim a full pension.” Is what is occurring in France a preview of what could happen in the U.S. with Social Security projected to run out of money in 10 years and Congress forced to confront these options: raise the retirement age, raise taxes, cut benefits, or all three?
Macron’s rationale for raising the retirement age is that the French must work longer or else the pension budget will fall billions of euros into a deficit each year by the end of the decade. Again, this mirrors the trajectory of the U.S. Social Security and Medicare programs absent reform.
Macron has also been criticized by some in the U.S. for cozying up to Chinese president Xi Jinping. The two recently held a three-day meeting in Beijing after which the French president seemed to project weakness when he said Europe must not become a “vassal” by being drawn into a potential conflict between China and the U.S. over Taiwan. If President Xi does invade Taiwan, Macron will deserve some of the blame for appearing not to oppose China’s intentions. President Biden’s critics say he seemed to give permission to Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine when Biden tried to differentiate between an invasion and a “minor incursion.”
The French have long been the butt of jokes. Remember “freedom fries” in reaction to French opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq?
Two of my favorites:
“France has neither winter nor summer nor morals. Apart from these drawbacks it is a fine country. France has usually been governed by prostitutes." – Mark Twain
“I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me." – Gen. George S. Patton
Macron’s latest machinations are unlikely to dispel such impressions, only add to them.