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In blow to Macron, France pensions reform tsar resigns

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s minister for pension reform resigned on Monday over a potential conflict of interest, dealing a blow to President Emmanuel Macron as trade unions staged a 12th day of strikes and prepared for more street protests against the planned changes.

FILE PHOTO: French High Commissioner for Pension Reform Jean-Paul Delevoye is pictured as France faces a second day of strike protests against the government's pension reform plans, in Paris, France December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Jean-Paul Delevoye, the High Commissioner for Pensions, was one of Macron’s most trusted allies and one of few with cabinet experience. He quit after failing to publicly declare more than a dozen posts he held in addition to his cabinet job.

His resignation, first reported by Le Monde newspaper, comes at a crucial moment for Macron whose government is locked in a standoff with unions over the plans to overhaul France’s convoluted pension system to help plug a chronic deficit.

The unions have said they will step up their protests unless the government withdraws the reform. Much of the rail network remained gridlocked on Monday as days of traffic chaos continued across France.

In a statement confirming Delevoye’s resignation, Macron’s office said: “The president hails his personal commitment and his work on the pension reform. His withdrawal allows for a clarification of the situation.”

Delevoye had been drafted into the cabinet in September after submitting a report recommending that the retirement age for receiving a full pension be raised by two years.

Unions have branded any attempt to raise the retirement age a “red line” and have asked their members, including doctors, teachers, dockers and others to join mass protests on Tuesday after the government’s broad plan was published on Dec. 11.

Pressure had been mounting on Delevoye to resign over the weekend after it emerged that he had failed to disclose publicly 13 positions, something a minister must do as part of a mandatory declaration of interest when taking up a cabinet role.

One of the positions was as a voluntary administrator for an insurance training institute, a sector that could benefit from the planned pension reform.

Delevoye has said it was a mistake not to disclose the posts, but with almost daily revelations appearing in local media, his position appeared increasingly compromised and could have distracted from the government’s efforts to bring the unions back to the negotiating table.

“This project is essential for France. My staying on would weaken it,” Delevoye said in his resignation letter, which was seen by Reuters.

Reporting by Caroline Paillez and Michel Rose; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Leigh Thomas and Gareth Jones