French Government Sparks Outrage by Pushing Through Pension Reform Without Vote Amid Protests in Paris.
On Thursday, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoked article 49.3 of the constitution to push through an unpopular pensions bill that would raise the retirement age by two years to 64. The move, which allows the bill to be adopted without a vote, has triggered protests and opposition from left-wing lawmakers and unions.
France passes controversial pension reform bill
The Prime Minister has faced boos and jeers in parliament after using a special constitutional procedure to push through a controversial pensions bill without a vote. The move will ensure the bill raising the retirement age by two years to 64 is adopted, despite weeks of protests and fractious debate. However, it shows President Emmanuel Macron and his government failed to garner a majority in parliament, damaging his ability to win support from other parties for further reforms.
Chaos erupts in parliament as bill is passed without vote
Borne was greeted by boos and jeers as she arrived in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, to announce that she would invoke article 49.3 of the constitution to skip a vote on the reform measures. The session was suspended for two minutes after left-wing lawmakers singing the national anthem prevented Borne from speaking. Some held placards reading “No to 64 years”. When the session resumed, Borne’s speech was largely drowned out by the same boos and chants.
Far-right Lawmakers Criticized for Not Backing Pension Reform
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Borne should resign. “This last-minute resort to 49.3 is an extraordinary sign of weakness,” she said, adding: “She must go.” The upper house Senate had given the green light to the bill earlier in the day as expected, thanks to support from senators from the conservative Les Republicains (LR). However, the afternoon vote in the National Assembly was expected to have been a different matter. There, LR lawmakers were split on the issue.
According to a source present at a last-minute meeting at the Elysee, Macron told Borne and others he had wanted to go for a vote. “But I consider that the financial and economic risks (of the bill being voted down) are too great,” he said.
Opinion polls show a vast majority of voters oppose the pension reform, as do trade unions, who say there are other ways to balance the accounts, including taxing the wealthy more. Resorting to the measure is likely to further enrage unions, protesters and left-wing opposition parties who say the pension overhaul is unfair and unnecessary.
Unions and opposition parties vow to continue protesting
Socialist Party head Olivier Faure told Reuters earlier on Thursday that such a move could unleash “uncontrollable anger” after weeks of rolling strikes and protests that have hit power production, blocked some shipments from refineries and seen garbage pile up on the streets of Paris.“We’re as determined as ever,” said CGT unionist Christophe Jouanneau at a refinery on strike in the western France city of Donges. “From next week on, we will take things up a gear.”
Opposition parties said they would request a vote of no confidence in the government, which will be voted on in the coming days, possibly on Monday. That is unlikely to pass as most conservative lawmakers would not be expected to back it – unless a surprise alliance of MPs from all sides is formed, from the far-left to the far-right and including the conservatives.
The government had initially said the reform would allow the system to break even by 2030, with 17.7 billion euros in additional annual contributions coming from pushing back the retirement age and extending the pay-in period. It says the accounts will still be balanced in that timeframe, with additional income compensating measures agreed by Macron’s camp to try to get LR’s support, including a softener for those who started to work early and a top-up for some working mothers.
France’s Low Retirement Age and High Pension Spending at Odds
Pension reform in France, where the right to retire on a full pension at 62 is deeply cherished, is always a highly sensitive issue and even more so now with social discontent mounting over the surging cost of living. With one of the lowest retirement ages in the industrialized world, France also spends more than most other countries on pensions at nearly 14% of economic output, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development