Macron to give up presidential pension amid Christmas transport strikes

The president was on a visit to the Ivory Coast over the weekend

France's President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou (R) take part in a military ceremony at the Martyr Quarter on December 22, 2019, in Niamey, to pay homage to 71 Nigerien soldiers massacred in an attack on December 10 at the Inates military camp in the Sahel country's western Tillaberi region. / AFP / POOL / Ludovic MARIN
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President Emmanuel Macron will give up his presidential pension to quell public anger at the political elite, as strikes across the transport sector disrupt holiday travel.

The French leader’s office also said he would not take up a lucrative seat on the Constitutional Council as French presidential tradition dictates.

In giving up the seat and his pension, the former banker, who turned 42 on Saturday, will forgo 19,720 euros (Dh80,295) a month.

Although some newspapers hailed the president’s decision to give up his pension, others criticised it, deeming it as a PR stunt.

On Saturday, the French president issued an appeal for a truce over the holidays between the government and the strikers. Three days earlier, talks between the two parties failed to ease the standoff and labour leaders called for further mobilisation.

Workers at the SNCF and RATP rail and public transport companies have protested against the government’s plan to meld France’s 42 pension schemes into a single points-based one, under which some public employees lose certain privileges. The strikes entered their 18th day on Sunday.

Tens of thousands of people planned to meet up with family and friends for the Christmas break at the weekend as the transport misery worsened. Only half of high-speed TGVs and a quarter of inter-city trains were running, and the SNCF urged travellers to cancel or delay planned trips.

In the Paris area, commuter trains were barely running, and only two out of 16 metro lines were operational.

Ten metro lines will open on Monday but will operate at reduced frequencies except for the two driverless lines, RATP said, while key commuter trains will run during rush hour but at reduced frequencies.

SNCF said two in five TGV trains would operate and international traffic would also be affected.

At the weekend, Mr Macron was visiting troops in the Ivory Coast, a former French colony. He urged strikers to embrace a “spirit of responsibility” and for “collective good sense to triumph”.

“I believe there are moments in the life of a nation when it is also good to call a truce to respect families and the lives of families,” he said in Abidjan.

A poll by the IFOP agency published on Sunday showed public backing for the action dropping by three percentage points, though 51 per cent still expressed support or sympathy for the strikers.

Jean Garrigues, a historian with the University of Orleans, told AFP this was likely to change over the holidays – cherished family time for the French.

“The transport blockage has mostly affected the Parisian region, and we can see that in the coming period, it will also affect people in the rural areas. This will alienate many people from the labour movement,” he said.

The government insists a pension overhaul is necessary to create a fairer, more transparent system.

It would do away with schemes that offer early retirement and other advantages to mainly public-sector workers, such as train drivers who can retire as early as 52.

While some unions support a single system, almost all reject a new proposed “pivot age” of 64 – beyond the legal retirement age of 62 – for retiring with a full pension.

Unions are hoping for a repeat of 1995, when the government backed down on pension reform after three weeks of metro and rail stoppages shortly before Christmas.

The protest is taking a heavy toll on businesses, especially retailers, hotels and restaurants during one of the busiest periods of the year.