Macron: I'm ready to be unpopular for pension reform
President Emmanuel Macron has said he's ready to be "unpopular" if it means driving through pension reform in the best interests of the country.
In a 35-minute televised interview broadcast live, Mr Macron repeated that his widely criticised pension reforms and decision to force the bill through France's lower house without a vote were in the national interest.
“As I speak to you, do you think it gives me pleasure to enact this reform? I say this to the French people, it gives me no pleasure. I wish I didn’t have to do this. But it’s out of a sense of responsibility and for the country’s best interests," he told French TV as he addressed the nation for the first time.
The reform will raise the age of retirement from 62 to 64 and extend the length of time people must work in order to obtain their full pension.
Mr Macron affirmed that the reforms would come into force by the end of the year.
“I am not seeking re-election, I cannot constitutionally,” he said referring to the two-term limit of the French presidency. “But between the short-term polls and the general interest of the country, I choose the general interest of the country. And if, in the end, I have to shoulder my unpopularity for it, I will shoulder it.”
As he spoke, striking workers continued their blockades of oil refineries, petrol depots, roads and train tracks across the country, while improvised protests in major cities also broke out into clashes with police.
In Rennes, police fired water cannons to disperse increasingly hostile crowds. The fishermen’s protest culminated with a demonstrator driving his tractor towards the police truck and jumping out, with the tractor in drive. Police were able to put the brakes on the tractor before it hit the police truck. Police made nine arrests.
Amidst the unrest and chaos, Sandrine Rousseau of the Ecologist party, called for the cancellation of King Charles’ visit this weekend when he visits Paris and Bordeaux – his first state visit as monarch.
"Unbelievable. We are going to have Emmanuel Macron, the monarch who is going to welcome King Charles III in Versailles who is going to descend the Champs-Elysées and dine at Versailles while the people are protesting?” she said in an interview with RMC. “Of course he should cancel this visit. Is the priority really to welcome Charles III in Versailles?"
In his interview, Mr Macron defended the reforms by pointing out that when he entered the workforce there were 10 million French pensioners. Today, there are 17 million.
He also said he wants to restart talks with unions to improve working conditions, career progression among older workers in laborious jobs, and reexamine the social welfare programme.
Mr Macron spoke about plans to look into “exceptional contributions” from companies where there are “exceptional profits,” specifically among companies that engage in the practice of buying back their own shares on the stock market instead of sharing the super profits with their own employees. But he clarified it would not be a tax.
Opposition leaders were quick to blast Mr Macron’s interview, including Olivier Faure of the Socialist party who said: "It's amazing, he is in absolute denial. I fear that he has put more explosives on an already well-lit inferno.”
CGT union leader Philippe Martinez called Mr Macron’s words “outrageous and contempt for the millions of people who will demonstrate”.
"He is in total denial of reality, he lives in his world, it's a serious problem.”
And Leftist Mathilde Panot of France Unbowed called Mr Macron an arrogant, irresponsible liar.
“Congratulations to those who endured these 30 minutes of absolute emptiness.”