The Brief — Get your act together, France
You who take to the streets to choke your country, who set it aflame, should look beyond the immediate perceived threat to the way you want to live your life. The true threat is not that the Elysée actively wants to make your life worse. It is the rise of autocracies, that would abolish personal freedoms entirely.
Autocracies legitimise their choking of personal freedoms through economic success. In order to remain a beacon of hope, to show that another way to wealth is possible, Europe is needed. In this, our success also depends on healthy budgets.
France spends 14.7% of its GDP on propping up the pension system, only beaten out by Italy’s 15.8%. Germany’s spending is 10.3% of GDP.
In Italy, people retire at 65, while the average retirement age of German workers is upwards of 64, on the road to 67, compared to France’s 62 years and three months.
In the EU’s triumvirate, that puts you dead last. And imperils your finances. Still, the French revolt against a reform that seeks to address this and – let this sink in – aims to make the pension system sustainable so that today’s protesters can indeed receive their own pensions when the time comes.
On Tuesday, protesters mobilised all over France, for the tenth time this year. What started as a protest against a controversial pension system reform by Emmanuel Macron, the French President, has snowballed into a violent uprising with little visible purpose.
Just yesterday, 175 policemen were injured, as the security forces are increasingly becoming the target of extremists who crest the wave of outrage.
Parisian supermarkets were raided by men dressed in black. In Lorient, protesters blocked railway tracks.
The pictures that the world sees are those of burning barricades, rocks thrown and a society deeply divided. France has seemingly ground to a halt. Nuclear electricity production is reaching new lows.
That is something we, as Europeans, can no longer afford, nor ignore, as your fellow countries.
Mankind faces a transformative decade. Great power conflict looms.
Fukuyama’s much-touted ‘end of history’ has never seemed further off. The ultimate victory of democracy and freedom seems less certain with every passing month. Illiberal systems threaten our security and our very way of life.
The pictures of rioters in one of the world’s richest countries, a champion of freedom, are wind in the sails of those who argue that Europe is in decline. Those who would impugn our way of life are thrilled to see you set fire to Paris.
Arguments in favour and against the pension reform have been discussed at length.
Yes, it would be an abrupt change instead of a slow phase-in like in Germany’s pension reform.
Yes, some people will be disproportionately negatively impacted.
Yes, the much-vaunted minimum pension of €1,200 was an exercise in PR.
And yes, utilising §49.3 of the Constitution on an issue so deeply personal to people was an excessive show of force.
But Macron is right in that the pension reform is necessary to ensure France’s financial stability going forward.
And financial stability along the Seine, lest it be forgotten, is a key aspect of the EU’s stability, as the bloc simply can not afford to have a “sick” economy in one of its largest and wealthiest members.
You, who abhor the pension reform, the way it was done, or just Emmanuel Macron personally, will not enjoy this part. But, we, your fellow Europeans, must ask that the French lay down the pitchforks and torches.
Your fellow EU countries need the French to stand firm and strong, in a stable and solid country.
Our only nuclear power and our second-largest economy cannot be choked by protests. Nor can it be governed by the extremes, who are the only ones to benefit from these protests. Europe and the EU need a strong and united France.
A new day of protests has been announced for 6 April. Until then, the French people and their government should capitalise on the careful, constructive signals that are being broadcast.
It seems that even the intrinsically radical French trade unions no longer want to watch on as they provide a soapbox to the radicals who would choke their country to death.
Already, one of mankind’s most crucial professions has seen the sign of the times: The garbage collectors of Paris are expected to resume work on Wednesday. Their trade union, the CGT, says “because we hardly have any strikers left.”
The French should strive to imitate their garbage collectors on this. The future of Europe may depend on it.
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Look out for…
- Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers speech on EU-China relations to Mercator Institute for China Studies and European Policy Centre.
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