As the race for the French presidency narrows ahead of Sunday’s first round, front-runner President Emmanuel Macron and far-right challenger Marine Le Pen squabbled over pension reform on Monday.
Opinion polls have long predicted that Macron will win a second term, but Le Pen has narrowed the gap, with polls showing the 44-year-old president just six points clear in a likely run-off on April 24.
Le Pen benefited from a campaign centered on purchasing power, on which it doubled down on Monday.
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“Do you realize what retirement at 65 is? It’s just completely unfair,” she told BFM TV, lambasting Macron’s plan to raise the legal retirement age. a full pension from age 62 to 65.
Le Pen wants to maintain the 62-year-old threshold and bring it back to 60 for those who started working before age 20. this age and would see their pension affected accordingly
Macron, asked about criticism of his pension reform plans, told France Inter radio: “Those who tell you that we can keep (the pension system) as it is now are lying to you.”
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Raising the retirement age – except for those in difficult jobs or who have worked longer than others – was needed to make the system viable and increase low pensions, he said .
Macron, when he entered the election campaign late last month, said he would raise the retirement age, cut taxes and further ease labor market rules, seeking a mandate to continue favorable reforms to businesses.
Highlighting his pro-business credentials was not without risk as households are feeling the pressure of rising prices and could deter a number of left-leaning voters from backing him against Le Pen in a likely run-off on April 24. .
At his only campaign rally before the first round on Saturday, Macron tried to convince voters of the risk of a turbulent Brexit election that could see Le Pen bring the far right to power in France.
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“Look at what happened with Brexit and so many other elections: what seemed unlikely actually happened,” he said. “Nothing is impossible.”
Even if Macron wins a second term, as the polls still expect, the issue of pension reform, which weighed on his first term, could pose a problem, given the scale of the opposition.
A first major challenge would be for his centre-right La République en Marche (LaRem) party, which has failed in all recent local elections, to win the legislative elections in June.