French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms have sparked protests and labor strikes across the country, with citizens expressing their anger at the decision to raise France’s retirement age from 62 to 64. The ongoing unrest has prompted Macron to postpone a planned state visit by Britain’s King Charles III, after demonstrators demanded that the trip be cancelled. Workers had already refused to roll out the red carpet for the king’s arrival, and Macron cited the potential for protests to create a “detestable situation” as the reason for the postponement.
While no major protests were scheduled for Friday, disruptions continued as train traffic was slowed, access to Marseille’s port was blocked for several hours, and debris still littered the streets of Paris following mass demonstrations on Thursday. Over a million people across France participated in over 300 demonstrations, with more than 450 protesters arrested and 441 police officers and gendarmes injured. Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin reported that violence had marred some marches, with 1,000 trash bins set on fire in the French capital.
Polls show that most French people oppose having to work two more years before retiring, but Macron has argued that the pension system needs reform to remain sustainable. However, the protests and labor strikes continue to escalate, with oil refineries becoming a new target for demonstrators. On Friday, protesters gathered at the Fos-sur-mer oil depot near Marseille to stop trucks from entering and leaving, while fuel supplies to Paris from the large Gonfreville-L’Orcher refinery in Normandy resumed Friday after police intervened.
Fearing further disruptions in the coming days, France’s Civil Aviation Authority has requested the cancellation of one-third of flights at Paris’ second airport, Orly, on Sunday, with 20% cancelled on Monday.
Macron has condemned the violent behavior at some of the protests, saying “violence has no place in a democracy.” The French president also expressed his regret at postponing the king’s visit, but said “common sense and friendship” required delaying it until the situation calms down.
Charles and Queen Consort Camilla had planned to visit both France and Germany during the king’s first trip abroad as Britain’s monarch, and the visit to Germany is still scheduled to go ahead, with another date to be found for the French leg.
The heavy wooden door of the elegant Bordeaux City Hall was destroyed by fire on Thursday night by people taking part in an unauthorized demonstration. Mayor Pierre Hurmic said he had “difficulty understanding the interest of such acts of vandalism.” Before the king’s visit was postponed, Hurmic said he hoped it wouldn’t be cancelled, adding “I hope that we do not give this gift to the thugs.”
The ongoing protests and labor strikes are a major challenge for Macron, who has already faced criticism for his economic policies and governing style. With public opposition to the pension reforms growing, the president will need to find a way to address citizens’ concerns while also ensuring the long-term sustainability of the pension system.