The man in charge of French President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reforms resigned on Monday, 12 days into strikes against the plans and a day ahead of protests called by all the country’s main trade unions.
High commissioner for pensions Jean-Paul Delevoye had been weakened by a series of press revelations about his mostly unpaid extra positions, many of which he had failed to include in an obligatory ethics declaration.
An Elysee Palace source confirmed that Macron had accepted the resignation “with regret.”
The episode has embarrassed the government, as the planned single national pensions system looks likely to require many workers to stay in work longer or face lower pensions.
“This project is essential for France,” Delevoye said in a statement. “By staying in place, I am weakening it.”
Delevoye last week undertook to repay about 120,000 euros (134,000 dollars) that he earned from a job he took up in a think tank several months after his appointment as pension commissioner.
The left-wing opposition has also charged that his unpaid role in an insurance industry training body could amount to a conflict of interest.
Strikes by public transport workers, whose right to retire at age 52 or 57 is set to be phased out, have crippled transport in Paris since Dec. 5. Traffic jams around the capital covered more than 600 kilometres on Monday.
Delevoye’s resignation comes a day before a new trial of strength, as moderate unions – angered by the extension of the age for retirement on a full pension – join hardliners on the streets for the first time.
“Delevoye has resigned. His project must go too,” radical left-wing opposition leader Jean-Luc Melenchon tweeted in response.
More than 800,000 protesters marched against the reform plans on Dec. 5. A second demonstration on Thursday brought 339,000 protesters out, according to official estimates.
The government says the new system will be fairer, as everybody will be in the same system and will get the same pension rights for every euro they pay in contributions.
It argues it will also be better suited to contemporary careers, which are often fragmented, than the 42 existing schemes, many of which are for particular professions or occupational groups.
Hardline unions want the whole plan scrapped, while moderates object to the rise in the age for a full pension and say there should be better provision for people in physically demanding jobs.
Laurent Berger, the Head of the Moderate CFDT Union, meanwhile said that there should be a “truce” in the strike to allow people to travel home for Christmas.
More hardline unions such as the formerly communist CGT have suggested the strike could continue through the holiday season, drawing condemnation from the government side.