After weeks of protests and outrage over his unpopular plans to raise the retirement age, French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday offered himself 100 days to mend the nation. He also asked his cabinet to start discussions with unions on a variety of subjects.
Macron said he wanted his prime minister to offer policies on working conditions, law and order, education, and health issues in a broadcast speech two days after enacting plans to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.
“On July 14, we must be able to take stock,” Macron said, referring to Bastille Day, France’s national day, often a milestone in French politics.
“We have ahead of us 100 days of appeasement, unity, ambition and action for France,” he said.
Macron has staked his reputation as a reformer on the pension changes, which he said were needed to avoid billions of euros of deficit each year by the end of the decade.
But his failure to build a parliamentary majority to back the reform, which forced him to ram it through without a vote using special constitutional powers, cost him much political capital.
On Monday, he said he regretted the fact the changes were not supported by the broader public.
“Is this reform accepted? Obviously not. Despite months of talks, a consensus wasn’t found, and I regret that. We must draw all the lessons from that,” he said.
As Macron started his speech, demonstrators banged pots and pans in front of town halls across the country and small groups of protesters set garbage bins on fire in Paris.
Macron gave few details about the roadmap he wanted the government to work on but said it should improve working conditions and also tighten immigration laws.
Speaking immediately after Macron’s speech, the head of France’s largest union, the CFDT’s Laurent Berger, said Macron’s speech had been totally empty and failed to address the anger in the country.
“There’s just a sort of emptiness, there is nothing in there, we expected something else,” he said.
He said unions would be ready to talk with the government only after Labour Day on May 1, following what he called a period of “decency” to let workers’ anger calm.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Macron was “stuck in a parallel world”.