The French government began a new round of talks with unions to try and end gridlock over its planned pension reform ahead of the holidays.
About two weeks of strikes and three nationwide marches have gummed up the country's public transportation system, leaving millions to work out alternative ways of getting around. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has reiterated that his government has no intention of backing down.
"The objective is very simple: to guarantee that accounts will be balanced in 2027," Mr. Philippe said Tuesday at the National Assembly. "If our social partners come up with a better proposition that guarantees equilibrium by then, we'll take it."
While President Emmanuel Macron's government has barreled through reforms of tax and labor laws, the current stalemate shows how deeply the French are wedded to their pension system. Reforming it is the crown jewel of Mr. Macron's effort to modernize the country by merging 42 separate pension regimes into one universal points-based system and offering incentives to push back the age when workers retire to 64 from 62 in 2027.
The prime minister has invited unions and employer organizations for talks Wednesday, followed by a joint meeting Thursday. They will be joined by the new pension reform chief, Laurent Pietraszewski, a former lawmaker from Mr. Macron's party. Mr. Pietraszewski was appointed Tuesday night, replacing Jean-Paul Delevoye, who resigned Monday for failing to declare multiple paid and unpaid positions he held in organizations including think tanks and trade groups.
France's third round of demonstrations and protest marches Tuesday drew 615,000 people across the country, according to Interior Ministry figures, while the far-left CGT union, which has led the anti-reform movement counted 1.8 million, according to published reports.
"This doesn't call into question the government's determination to do this reform, which is a reform for all of the French," Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, junior minister for transportation, said Wednesday in an interview on CNews television. "There were fewer people in the streets yesterday than on Dec. 5."
The first march on Dec. 5, drew more than 800,000 people, the biggest turnout since Mr. Macron took office in May 2017. The second march on Dec. 10 had fewer than half that, according to the Interior Ministry.