Hesitation Waltz on Pension Reform
Pension reform: the perpetual big enchilada of French political life for the past 30 years. Yet another round was to have been the centerpiece of Macron’s second term, first scheduled for the fall of this year. But when François Bayrou protested that the groundwork had not been laid and that the government was headed for disaster if it went ahead with its plans, Macron backed off. The new showdown date was to have been next week. But the president, after dining with his ministers to iron out final details, has backed off yet again. Some say it’s just that Les Bleus have made it to the final round of the World Cup, and the president is off to Qatar to cheer them on. And then, too, driving the unions into the streets would hardly make for a cheery holiday season. But is that really all that’s on the president’s mind?
Despite the delays and talks and “educational” consultations with opponents, the government has failed to convince doubters that the key tenet of its proposed (and ever shifting) reform–raising the legal age of retirement from 62 to 65–is actually necessary. The technical arguments are arcane and beside the point, which is that the government, despite years of preparation, has failed to make an airtight case for the necessity of a reform that has been steadfastly opposed even by groups that have backed previous changes in the pension regime. And it’s not as though there are not other aspects of the social state that are not in dire need of attention: hospitals, schools, housing, and prisons all stand in urgent need of action.
So why the insistence on pension reform, which is sure to meet with fierce opposition? An element of machismo seems to be involved. Welfare state retrenchment is where neoliberal reformers prove how tough they are. But Macron seems to be living in a time warp. The neoliberal order is nearing its end: if you don’t believe me, see Gary Gerstle’s book, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order. Perhaps the new reality has begun to dawn on the French president. When January comes, he could still reverse himself, pretexting the advice of his famous Conseil National de Refondation as the reason for his change of heart. It might spare him a lot of unnecessary heartache.