Editorial: France’s pensions furore will have far-reaching consequences that go beyond flight disruptions

French president Emmanuel Macron. Photo: Mischa Schoemaker - Pool/Getty Images© Getty Images


France’s pension wars hit Ireland on Bank Holiday Monday as hundreds of flights to and from this country were cancelled due to French air-traffic controllers striking. With no end in sight to a deep French social conflict over plans to raise the pension qualification age to 64, it could be a long and troubled summer for Irish holidaymakers looking to get away after the Covid lock-up years.

But the huge battles faced by France’s dynamic president Emmanuel Macron have other implications for daily life, affecting us beyond our ability to travel from this island.

International debt assessors will have been looking at France’s credit ratings yesterday as street protests continued to rage with added gusto on what was International Workers’ Day – always a big holiday in that country.

Mr Macron’s legislation by decree has been cleared by the French constitutional court which is due to rule Wednesday on further legal efforts to have a referendum on the issue.

Mr Macron tried to placate the nation via a televised address which committed to producing a series of measures to improve living standards and quality of life inside the coming 100 days. However, there is absolutely no sign that the French president will back down and grant key trade union leaders’ demands that he reverse the 64-year pension age.

Opinion polling continues to show that the vast bulk of the France’s almost 65 million people back the protest movement, with surveys last week putting support for the movement at 60pc.

President Macron, who was elected to a second five-year term in April of last year, has staked the pension reforms as central to his work programme for the rest of his term. He is committed to reforming the French economy and investing more on tackling climate change and embracing the digital era for longer-term economic wellbeing.

The threatening implications for Ireland and other nations, beyond travel disruption, relate to fears that this continued and deepening French social unrest could hit the nation’s economy.

France is the European Union’s second largest economy and ranked in the world as a G7 economic power. What happens there affects all 27 EU member states and beyond that into the wider world.

Ireland, like most developed countries, is facing its own version of the “pensions timebomb” – with fewer people at work to support growing numbers of retired people.

Yet France’s problems are presented as more urgent, with 17 million people on pension costing the equivalent of 14pc of national economic output.

The pension issue played big in the last Irish election and will return to the agenda.

The French experience so far tells us that a bigger effort must be made to promote longer-term pensions dialogue to avoid future major clashes.