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Following in Margaret Thatcher’s footsteps

Protestors in front of the Louvre. Alain Jocard/Getty

Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms have been dismissed as “sinister, brutal and unjust”, says John Lichfield in UnHerd. And he has certainly been foolish, pushing the unpopular measures at a time of soaring inflation and circumventing a parliamentary vote. But the reforms themselves are “modest and sensible”. In fact, there is something of Margaret Thatcher about the president setting out to reform his country “for its own good and against its will”. France’s life expectancy is among Europe’s highest, and its people work less than many other industrial nations. So it’s not entirely surprising that France hasn’t balanced its budget for half a century, accumulating public debt worth 113% of the nation’s GDP – “well above the eurozone average”. With interest rates surging, that’s starting to bite.

France’s state pension system is meant to be funded by monthly payments from workers and employers. In reality, the system runs a huge deficit, only disguised by a €30bn-a-year “bung” from general taxation. So it is left to private sector workers, “who retire later on poorer pensions”, to fund the “generous early retirement schemes” for state employees. And even if the reforms go ahead, the official retirement age will only rise from 62 to 64 by 2030 – still lower in seven years’ time than it is in most European countries today. There is a “systematic refusal” by the French public to accept “the country is living beyond its means”, which Macron understands is spooking international creditors. But while Thatcher had “much of the media and the House of Commons on her side”, Macron is doing battle alone.