France braces for protests as Macron pushes ahead with pension reform –

French authorities are bracing for their biggest mass protests in years as protesters take to the streets Saturday against President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed pension reforms.

Up to 850,000 people are expected to show up for protests scheduled to take place across the country.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a former presidential candidate and veteran left-wing leader, predicted that the rally would be “the biggest social movement in this country in half a century.”

Macron’s political legacy may hinge on the outcome of plans to raise France’s retirement age to 64, as he tackles the thorny issue of pensions – a sacred cow in French society seen as the backbone of the country’s social contract.

Saturday’s action is the fourth in a series of protests, but union bosses are confident it will be the biggest yet as it takes place over a weekend.

Marie Buisson, general secretary of the Ferc-CGT union, which represents the education and cultural sectors, said on Saturday morning that she hoped many people who could not participate in the stoppage earlier in the week would now do so.

Macron made pension reform a centerpiece of his re-election campaign last year but is battling public backlash against proposals to raise the minimum pension age, which is currently 62.

His new law went to parliament on February 6 and has been slammed by the left-wing NUPES parliamentary coalition, trade unions and a wide swath of the public.

French presidents have tried – and failed – for years to reform France’s pension system

France, the EU’s second-largest economy, is out of step with much of Europe when it comes to its minimum retirement age. In neighboring Spain the retirement age is 65; In Germany, it was recently changed to 67, with many countries opting to raise their minimum retirement ages in recent years as people live longer and governments grapple with massive pension liabilities.

But critics of Macron’s plan say it risks disproportionately hitting low-income workers and argue there are other ways to deal with pension shortfalls, such as taxing the super-rich.

While Macron can technically push the proposals through a special constitutional provision, the government has said it wants a majority in parliament, with Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire describing it as a question of “political legitimacy”.

As political horse-trading escalates, Macron’s government has already made some concessions — proposing that those who started working at ages 20 and 21 could retire at 63, for example. But it is not clear whether this will be enough to influence enough members of the National Assembly.

Clarification: This article has been updated to note that Germany’s retirement age has recently changed.