French pension reform architect resigns as strikes drag on

Commuters walk to get on a train at the Gare Saint Lazare station in Paris, France, Monday, Dec. 16, 2019. French transport strikes against a planned overhaul of the pension system entered their twelfth day Monday as French president Emmanuel Macron's government remains determined to push ahead with its plans. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron’s government suffered a blow Monday when the key architect of the pension overhaul resigned over alleged conflicts of interests, on the 12th day of transport strikes against the planned changed.

The French presidency said Macron accepted “with regret” the resignation of High Commissioner Jean-Paul Delevoye, a veteran politician who prepared the pension plans for two years before being appointed in September at the government to drive the reform program.

He was notably in charge of talks with workers’ unions and professional organizations.

Macron’s office stressed Delevoye’s “work and commitment” and said the decision was needed in order to preserve the next steps of the reform.

Delevoye was under fire from the opposition and unions after French newspaper Le Parisien and Le Monde reported that he hadn’t mentioned some of his activities in the formal declaration required from all government members to avoid potential conflicts of interests.

Delevoye acknowledged a “mistake,” saying he “forgot” to declare several positions, some in the insurance and banking sectors, a think tank and one at the foundation of national rail company SNCF.

Delevoye’s resignation comes as Macron has said he wants the government to push ahead with the pension changes, which include raising the retirement age to 64 and ending special privileges for some workers.

Major unions want to push the strike through Christmas as a new round of protests across France was planned Tuesday.

Authorities measured a record traffic jam of 630 kilometers (390 miles) of traffic in the morning in the Paris region, where only two Metro lines, using automated trains with no drivers, were fully running. The other 14 metro lines were closed or only very partially running.

Most regional and national trains were at a standstill. International train routes also suffered disruptions.

Truck drivers launched a separate protest movement Monday morning, staging road blockages across France to demand better salaries and working conditions.

The strikes involve mostly public sector workers, including train drivers, teachers and hospital employees, who fear they will have to work longer for lower pensions.

Polls suggest most French support the strike and protest movement. Yet some commuters were losing patience Monday in Paris as they waited for rare trains on overflowing platforms.

Laurence Sturm came from the town of Troyes, east of Paris, to work in the capital. She told The Associated Press that the strike cost her hotel nights and some of her days off “just to be able to go to work.”

Unions “are fighting for their privileges, and we are paying for it,” she said. “I’ll never be able to retire at 55 or 60 years old. I’ll have to work until 64 years old to get a full pension, and I’m paying for theirs.”

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