The French government has forced through controversial plans to raise the country’s retirement age from 62 to 64, a move likely to inflame the country’s weeks-long protest movement.
French President Emmanuel Macron will trigger special constitutional powers to enact the proposed pension reform bill, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced Thursday in the National Assembly, which had not yet voted on the proposal.
“We cannot bet on the future of our pensions,” Borne said amid jeers and chants from lawmakers. “This reform is necessary.”
Labor leaders in France called for new demonstrations following Borne’s announcement, with several thousand people converging at Paris’ Place de la Concorde and in several other cities in France on Thursday evening.
“By resorting to [constitutional article] 49.3, the government demonstrates that it does not have a majority to approve the two-year postponement of the legal retirement age,” tweeted Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, one of the unions leading the protests.
Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT trade union, also called for more strikes and protests, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Massive protests have been held regularly throughout France since mid-January, with millions turning out to voice their opposition to the government’s plan. Mass strikes have hit transport and education, while in the capital Paris uncollected garbage has been piling in the streets.
The government has argued that reform is necessary to keep the pension system’s finances out of the red in the coming years.
“The aim is to balance the accounts without raising taxes or cutting pensions. Various options are on the table, but all include raising the retirement age,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told journalists in January, according to Reuters.
A constitutional workaround
The pension reform bill passed the French Senate earlier on Thursday, but was not expected to pass the National Assembly – the lower house of the country’s parliament – where lawmakers were due to vote this afternoon.
The session was stopped early for Borne’s announcement. Lawmakers erupted into chaotic scenes as she explained the government’s decision, fighting to be heard as lawmakers sang French national anthem “La Marseillaise” and others held signs reading “No to 64 years.”
Borne also criticized far-right lawmakers in the lower house for not backing the legislation.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, called for the prime minister to step down.
“After the slap that the Prime Minister just gave the French people, by imposing a reform which they do not want, I think that Elisabeth Borne should go,” tweeted Le Pen on Thursday.
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.
But 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.