France’s government on Saturday proposed a compromise to end a gruelling transport strike against its planned pension reform with an offer to withdraw a key proposal on raising the retirement age by two years, but the opposition gave the announcement a scathing welcome. Marine Le Pen, leader of the rightwing Rassemblement national (RN) party, swiftly poured cold water on the government’s offer, calling the compromise a “dishonest” negotiating tactic and “obvious manipulation” She wrote in a Twitter post: “So I was right. The pivot age existed for the sole purpose of being withdrawn and to sweeten the pill of a reform that will make millions of retirees poorer.
“Blindingly obvious manipulation!”
“You introduce something that’s unacceptable and then you withdraw it. Nothing justifies this reform,” she later told the news channel BFMTV.
Like other opposition leaders, Mme Le Pen has been demanding the centrist government drop the reform altogether.
The government’s bitter standoff with labour unions is the biggest challenge yet to its efforts to reform the country, and has triggered a crippling transport strike.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in a letter to unions and employers that he was prepared to shelve plans to raise the retirement age for a full pension by two years to 64 if certain conditions were met.
“The compromise that I’m offering…seems to me the best way to peacefully reform our retirement system,” Mr Philippe said after talks between the government and unions to break the deadlock failed on Friday.
The overture from M Philippe came as tens of thousands of protesters clashed with police in Paris, with the transport strike against the pension overhaul entering its sixth week.
Demonstrators in the capital, some masked and hooded, smashed shop windows, set fires and hurled projectiles at riot police, who responded with tear gas.
Several stores were looted as protesters brandished union flags and chanted: “We are still here!” and “Macron resign”.
President Emmanuel Macron hailed the plan as a “constructive and responsible” compromise.
Conservative Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, leader of the nationalist Debout La France party, echoed Mme Le Pen’s remarks, slamming the government’s olive branch to unions as a “trap”.
“Edouard Philippe has offered to withdraw the pivot age. But let us not fall into his trap. The pension project remains in force: payments will drop massively,” he tweeted.
Socialist leader Olivier Faure, for his part, called for the whole reform to be scrapped.
“We are being asked to vote on a definitive reform in exchange for a temporary withdrawal of the pivot age. No reform is possible without proper financing,” he said.
Leftwing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon warned the concession would only lead to “more anguish and more distrust,” as he urged the government to scrap its current plans and “start again from scratch”.
Leftwing politician Adrien Quatennens joined the chorus of criticism, accusing M Philippe of taking the French for “fools,” and warning the new system championed by the government would force people “to work longer and for less”.
The French government wants to fuse the country’s existing 42 pension schemes into a single, points-based system it says will be fairer and more transparent, but which unions fear will see millions work longer for a smaller pension.
Particularly controversial was the proposal to impose the 64 “pivot age” that people would have to work until to receive a full pension.
The government argues the pivot age would help save £4.3 billion (€5bn) by 2023 and some £9.4 billion (€11bn) by 2026.
M Philippe also announced there would be a conference, as demanded by union leaders, to discuss ways of financing the debt-ridden pension system, which must come up with proposals by the end of April.
If it succeeds, MPs will be able to work the proposals into the draft pension bill the government hopes to introduce to parliament by February 17.
But if it fails, the government will take the “measures necessary to achieve equilibrium” in the system by 2027, M Philippe warned.