News / Europe

Turnout High for French Protests Against Government

Followers of the CGT Union (General Confederation of Work) attend a protest march in Marseille, southern France, over the government's attempt to raise the retirement age by two years to save money, 12 Oct 2010
Followers of the CGT Union (General Confederation of Work) attend a protest march in Marseille, southern France, over the government's attempt to raise the retirement age by two years to save money, 12 Oct 2010

More than one million people took to the streets of France to protest government plans to increase the retirement age. Governments across Europe are embarking on pension reforms to pay for a growing number of retirees.

Waving banners and chanting slogans against the center-right French government, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Paris.  

French unions estimate the number of protesters nationwide at about 3.5 million, authorities estimate about half that number.  The protest, which also disrupted mass transit and flights, is the latest against the French government efforts to raise the legal retirement age from 60 to 62 years.

Polls show the majority of French are against the reforms. They include 53-year-old university protester Alain Neveu, who joined the Paris march with his wife Brigitte.

Neveu says the reforms are unfair.  He believes the government can pay for retirees' pensions by better redistributing France's wealth.

Fabrice and Melanie, both in their '30s, agree.

Fabrice says if the protest hardens the government will have no choice but to listen their demands.

France's center-right government says it has no other choice but to increase the retirement age.  More French are living longer, which means the working population will have to pay for an increasing number of retirees as the years go by.

In remarks to French lawmakers, Prime Minister Francois Fillon called the pension reforms just and reasonable as the government is grappling with a massive public deficit.

He noted French reforms ae modest compared to elsewhere in Europe, where governments have increased retirement age to 65 and even 67.

Analysts like Simon Tilford, of the center for European Reform in London, say the reforms are crucial.  "What we are seeing is essentially a very powerful group of special interests resisting reforms that would be in everyone's interests and which provide one of the least painful ways of reassuring investors about France's public finances," he said.

Tilford believes European governments must take more painful measures than simply increasing retirement age. "Member states, European economies need to go much further than that because we are seeing fewer and fewer workers supporting more and more people in retirement.  So the increase in retirement age needs to go beyond the increase in life expectancy if we are going to square the circle and ensure pension systems are sustainable from a financial point of view," he said.

The French government vows it will push through its reform package by the end of the month.

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