Emmanuel Macron has said his controversial pension changes, the biggest single revamp of the French system since 1945, will not go ahead as planned as he again refused to say whether he would run for another five-year presidential term.
“I do not think the reform as it was originally envisaged can go ahead as such” in the wake of the Covid crisis, the French president told reporters following him on a nationwide tour on Thursday in the run-up to regional elections this month.
“It was very ambitious and extremely complex and that is why it generated anxiety, we must admit that. Doing it right now would mean ignoring the fact that there are already a lot of worries,” Macron said in the southern French village of Martel.
The planned pension overhaul, among other pro-business changes that helped spark the 2018-19 gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protest, were halted in their tracks by the pandemic in February last year, prompting the government to postpone any further debate on the topic to this year.
Central to Macron’s ambition of creating a more flexible and competitive labour force, the proposed changes included raising the retirement age by two years to 64, but are now unlikely to make progress until after the 2022 presidential election.
Macron, whose 2017 win transformed France’s political landscape, said he would make “difficult” decisions this summer, again refusing to confirm he would run. “I’m going to have to make some choices, some of them difficult,” he said.
It would be a shock if the 43-year-old centrist did not seek re-election, but he has stayed resolutely quiet on the question while rivals such as the far-right leader Marine Le Pen and centre-right heavyweights Xavier Bertrand, Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and Édouard Philippe, the former prime minister, have thrown their hats in the ring.
Macron defended his economic policies as well as his decision not to raise taxes as the country grapples with spiralling debt from efforts to limit the damage of the Covid crisis. “You have to produce wealth to redistribute it, something we forget too often in our country,” he said. “We are the EU country that taxes the most.”