The National Times - Macron's camp defends backtrack on French pension reform

Macron's camp defends backtrack on French pension reform

Macron's camp defends backtrack on French pension reform
Macron's camp defends backtrack on French pension reform / Photo: © POOL/AFP

President Emmanuel Macron's allies scrambled on Tuesday to defend his willingness to soften a pensions overhaul in the face of widespread resistance, a move which his far-right rival Marine Le Pen denounced as a "ploy" in the final sprint to the presidential run-off.

Change text size:

Macron, a centrist who tried to overhaul France's byzantine pensions system two years ago, said after meeting voters in northern France on Monday that he might only seek to push back the retirement age from 62 to 64 -- instead of 65 as long promised.

"I'm ready to shift... and say that we won't necessarily make this reform all the way (to 65) if I sense that people are too anxious," he said.

Critics pounced on an alleged bid to woo left-wing voters, who Macron may need to rely on in a tight race against Le Pen.

She has promised a "social justice" campaign that would leave the retirement age at 62 -- and even lower it to 60 for people who began working before the age of 20.

"The French are very smart. Everyone knows this is a ploy by Emmanuel Macron to try to win over, or at least mollify, left-wing voters," Le Pen told France Inter radio on Tuesday.

"The reality is, retirement at 65 is his obsession. It's all he has ever talked about," she claimed.

Since sweeping to power in 2017, Macron has said an overhaul is necessary to keep the pay-as-you-go system financially viable. But a series of massive strikes and then the Covid-19 pandemic forced him to put the plan on ice in 2020.

His ministers defended the age shift, with Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire saying it was better to seek a "compromise" with opponents of pension reform than to revive a conflict that Macron has said could be put to a national referendum.

"We know that it's hard to convince the French," Le Maire told CNews television, while insisting Macron would seek a pensions reform "that is fair and durable".

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said Macron was simply being "pragmatic".

"It's called listening to people," he told FranceInfo radio.

- Sarkozy speaks -

Meanwhile on Tuesday, Macron received a weighty right-wing endorsement from former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who broke months of campaign silence to say he would vote for the incumbent in the April 24 run-off.

"We must abandon our partisan habits... Fidelity to right-wing republican values and our governing culture must lead us to answer Emmanuel Macron's call for unity," Sarkozy posted on his Facebook page.

The statement came just days after the candidate from Sarkozy's own conservative Republicans party -- whom he had refused to support publicly -- was eliminated in the first round of the election.

Pecresse, who was budget minister in Sarkozy's government, had made several attempts to secure her former boss's blessing but to no avail. Media reports claimed Sarkozy was unimpressed by her campaigning.

On the left, former Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin -- whose presidential hopes were smashed in 2002 when he was knocked out of the running by Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen -- said he would vote for Macron too.

The president also obtained the backing of the popular former mayor of Paris, Socialist Bertrand Delanoe, whose his former protege and current Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo suffered a humiliating rout in the first-round presidential vote on Sunday.

"I don't idolise Emmanuel Macron," Delanoe told France Inter radio. But he accused Le Pen of harbouring views as anti-immigrant and xenophobic as those of extremist media pundit Eric Zemmour, who was also eliminated from the running on Sunday.

"Le Pen thinks quietly what Eric Zemmour says out loud," Delanoe said.