Home World News French Presidential Aspirant Addresses nation in spite of 2023 setbacks

French Presidential Aspirant Addresses nation in spite of 2023 setbacks

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France Workers Stage One Day General Strike Over Pension Reform
France Workers Stage One Day General Strike Over Pension Reform

The next year should be one of “determination”, “regeneration”, and “hope” for France, the country’s President Emmanuel Macron told the nation in his Dec. 31 address.

The past year has not been easy for France, with high inflation, deep social divisions over the forced passing of pension reforms, the controversial shooting of a teenager by police, and the constant threat of terrorism.

UNPOPULAR PENSION REFORM

In January 2023, over a million people in France protested against the proposed pension reform bill to increase the legal retirement age from 62 to 64. The nationwide social movement dramatically disrupted daily life, with Parisian streets infested with garbage due to strikes by refuse workers, and public transport services frequently canceled. In March 2023, the government used Article 49.3 of the Constitution to force the bill through the French Parliament, leading to an eruption of violence, protests and strikes across the country. According to France’s Pensions Advisory Council (COR), expenditure on the pension system reached 360.7 billion euros(395.26 billion U.S. dollars) in 2022, equivalent to 13.7 percent of the French gross domestic product (GDP). The COR emphasized in its annual report in June that after Italy, France has the highest pension/GDP ratio among the countries monitored.

However, while the French government insisted that the reforms to the pension system were necessary, the COR was not as optimistic about their promised effects. It projected in its annual report that the pension deficit would be between 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent of France’s GDP from 2024 to 2030, while the government had said the reform would bring a balance to pension funds by 2030. However, the COR has said that the pension reform will limit the increase in the number of retirees to around 1.5 percent fewer in 2030, and 0.8 percent less in 2040, which will cut pension expenditure. In his New Year speech, Macron admitted that the reform was unpopular, but insisted that it was necessary for the country.

ECONOMIC PROGRESS

He also reflected on the progress that France made during 2023, saying that the measures taken have allowed France to finance its social model. The French economy was also resistant in 2023. Its central bank, the Banque de France, estimated that the GDP would grow by 0.8 percent in 2023, although the pension reform protests hit France’s economy hard in the second semester. With heavy investment in green energy and carbon-free industries, France is expected to have GDP growth of 0.9 percent in 2024, with a confirmed decline in inflation. This mainly results from the tightening of monetary policy since July 2022, unprecedented in its amplitude since the creation of the eurozone.

France’s year-on-year consumer price index (CPI) was 3.5 percent in November, the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) said in its latest report. French Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire has said that the government bringing inflation under control after two years of soaring rates represents a “real success”. During 2023, the French government also pushed for many measures to cut the cost of living. From April to June 2023, retail groups were asked to cut prices for a wide range of products. Meanwhile, the energy tariff shield put in place in 2021, already extended to December 2022 for gas, was also prolonged for the whole year of 2023. In addition, the government asked the fuel industry to sell at cost price, and granted 100 euros in aid to the poorest workers who have to drive to work. In April, inflation stood at 5.9 percent, but was brought down to 4.5 percent in June. According to the European Commission, France’s inflation is expected to stand at 5.8 percent in 2023 on average, before easing to 3.0 percent in 2024.

VIOLENT PROTESTS AGAINST POLICE RACISM

However, while the French economy recovered significantly in 2023, the killing of a North African teenager by police in June sparked a week-long social crisis in the country. Nahel Mazouk, 17, was shot dead after an altercation with police in a Paris suburb on June 27, leading to violent protests and riots across the country. The demonstrations also extended to other European countries, where people also protested against police racism and brutality. According to official figures, almost 4,000 people were taken into police custody during the riots, including 1,124 minors. The intensity of the protests over Mazouk’s death surpassed even that of the 2005 riots caused by the death of two teenagers of African descent, who were accidentally electrocuted during a police chase. The riots have also impacted French tourism. According to President of the Paris Tourist Office Jean-Francois Rial, thousands of holidays to the French capital, one of the world’s most popular summer destinations, were canceled due to the riots.

Geoffroy Roux de Bezieux, president of the Movement of the Enterprises of France, estimated that the cost of the riots would be at least 1 billion euros. Mazouk’s death also reflected deep rifts in French society, and among French police. “This is a moment for the country to seriously address the deep issues of racism and discrimination in law enforcement,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the United Nations’ (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights. However, the French government said the UN’s statement was “completely unfounded.” It was not the first time that the French police have been accused of racism. According to the French television channel TV5 MONDE, in December 2022 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) expressed its “deep concern” over the frequent and disproportionate use by French police of identity checks, arrests and fines on people of foreign origin.

Meanwhile, Macron has said that in 2024 he plans to continue what he started during his second term: civic and economic rearmament for France. “It’s up to us to do it together. It’s up to us to choose rather than to endure, it is up to us to forge the path rather than to follow,” he added. (1 euro = 1.10 U.S. dollar)

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