If, in ten years’ time, it occurs to someone to take stock of the French situation at the beginning of 2023, as many foreign friends of France are doing today, it will be difficult to understand why the country has become inflamed over a pension reform which, however necessary it may be in the eyes of those who are proposing it, is in no way, for anyone, the country’s top priority; and which, by the very debate that it entails (where all the camps inveigh, insult each other, lie and caricature their positions), slows down, or even makes it impossible to imagine being able to launch into the major reforms that the country needs so much and whose absence, in ten years’ time, will cruelly weigh on its destiny.

Do we still need to list these reforms? It is known to all; it is even the subject of a general consensus, even if their modalities are the subject of many debates, which it would be urgent to conduct:

Everyone knows that it will be necessary to radically reform our education system (more unequal than ever, proletarianising teachers and condemning young people from working-class backgrounds to jobs they don’t want); our hospital system (whose shortcomings are more visible every day, despite the magnificent efforts of the nursing staff); our institutions (totally unsuited to the modern world, with a presidential mandate that is too short, members of parliament cut off from municipal life, regions that are too large, and citizens left out of major debates); our medium-sized towns (which are furiously watching public services disappear); our migration policy (which neither dares to integrate frankly all the foreigners who are here and who are only asking to work, nor to set a clear limit on the number of those we will be able to afford to make our own); ecological transformation (which everyone knows would require much more than half measures, to reduce the use of private cars, increase the price of carbon, reuse waste water, eliminate fossil fuel derivatives from the entire industrial chain) the modernisation of agriculture (to give young people the desire to return to this magnificent, highly technical profession, on which respect for the country’s identity depends); the revival of our industry (the dramatic situation of our balance of payments should remind us every day that this is our first emergency, because a country without industry is condemned to a very rapid decline). And so many other issues: administrative and fiscal simplification, (for the benefit of the weakest); the development of port cities, (which history teaches us is the necessary condition for the vitality of a nation), etc.

In any case, no one should have thought to include in this list the marginal adjustment of possible deficits, one day far away, of our pension schemes; and no one should have dismissed the analysis made on this subject by the best experts explaining that there was no urgency.

So why? Why mobilise a very high quality Prime Minister in such a secondary debate? Why discredit the State and weaken the end of the current five-year term by such a choice? And if we really wanted to make this choice, why not stick to the reform that has already been partially voted on, which is much more logical, introducing a points-based system? And why not open France up to what all countries have, and which the French want, at least in a complementary way: a funded pension?

I don’t see any other explanation than this: we promised to make this reform, and we embarked on it because it was apparently the easiest to carry out. It’s a bit like the drunk who looks for his keys under a lamppost, not because he’s lost them there, but because there’s a light there.
The only problem is that this reform has proved to be extremely complex, as is obviously the case with any reform in a sophisticated society, where regulations and laws are the result of decades, if not centuries, of social struggles and political compromises.

It is time to turn the page. Either by giving up, or by forcing the issue if we really don’t want to (you can guess my preference). In any case, to move on as quickly as possible.


Painting: Vincent Van Gogh, At the Gate of Eternity, 1890, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands.