France’s Macron faces decisive test over economic policies

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A demonstrator takes snapshots during a demonstration in Paris, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. The Eiffel Tower shut down, France's high-speed trains stood still and tens of thousands of people marched through Paris and other cities Thursday, in a massive and sometimes chaotic outpouring of anger at the government's plan to overhaul the retirement system. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

PARIS – Massive strikes against a planned overhaul of the pension system are sending a powerful warning to French President Emmanuel Macron. Half-way through his term, the 41-year-old centrist is still determined to push through the reform and keep remodeling the French economy.

Macron is facing a decisive test at the end of a turbulent year that has seen yellow vest protests agitate against his economic and fiscal policies.

As the anti-government movement was petering out this summer, protests against the pension plans emerged, leading to unions’ calls for a general, open-ended strike this week.

In what may look like the government’s worst nightmare, yellow vests and angry workers marched together on the streets of French cities on Thursday.

Macron considers the overhaul of the pension system, one of his key campaign promises, as “indispensable.”

The plans are the centerpiece of changes he says are aimed at modernizing France’s labor market — and a big challenge in a country with a long history of social struggles.

The current system “is not good and is not fair,” Macron said last month. “We are rebuilding a universal pension system, much fairer and accountable.”

The main focus of the reform is to unify the 42 different pension schemes into a single one — so all workers have the same pension rights. The so-called special regimes, linked to certain professions, allow workers to get early retirement or other benefits.