Despite massive strikes and nationwide street protests, French president Nicolas Sarkozy said on Wednesday that he would not drop his plans to raise the minimum age of retirement.
“There is no question of turning back on this point,” Sarkozy told his ministers during a cabinet meeting, his office said in a press statement.
The president did make some concessions regarding people who began working before the age of 18 and workers in exceptionally strenuous or dangerous jobs, but he remained firm in the central measure of a reform he regards as the most important of his five-year term.
His declaration came a day after strikes disrupted transportation and schools throughout the country. Some 2.5 million people, according to trade union figures, demonstrated in more than 200 cities to protest the reform. Police however, put the number of protesters at just over 1.1 million people.
The pension reform bill, which calls for gradually raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 by the year 2018, was presented to parliament on Tuesday and is expected to become law by late October.
Earlier on Wednesday, the leader of the opposition Socialists called on Sarkozy to withdraw the pension reform proposal. “In a democracy, when the people take to the streets, when there are more than 2 million people. .., they must be listened to, and I think the government should go back to the drawing board with this reform, which is both unjust and inefficient,” Martine Aubry told France 2 television.
Aubry also called on Sarkozy to engage negotiations with her party and with trade unions and to “stop the parliamentary debate” on the bill.
Meanwhile, trade unions are considering another day of protest if Sarkozy does not give in, the head of the Force Ouvriere trade union, Jean-Claude Mailly, said on Wednesday. Union leaders were scheduled to meet later Wednesday to agree on holding new protests.