12 March 2023

French Senate adopts pension bill despite continuing street protests

12 March 2023

A bill that would raise the retirement age in France from 62 to 64 moved a step forward with the senate’s adoption of the measure amid strikes, protests and uncollected rubbish piling high.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne tweeted late on Saturday after the 195-112 vote that she looks forward to the bill’s definitive passage, hailing a “decisive step toward a reform that will assure the future of our retirement” system.

But the legislation must now move through tricky political territory with multiple potential outcomes.

It heads first to a committee of seven senators and seven lower-house politicians to find a compromise between the two houses’ versions of the text on Wednesday – when unions planned an eighth round of nationwide protest marches.

President Emmanuel Macron is undaunted by the uncollected rubbish piling up in Paris and other cities from a strike by refuse workers opposed to the bill and reduced services and supplies in other sectors like transport and energy.

Mr Macron has refused a request by unions to meet with him, which leftist CGT union leader Philippe Martinez said amounted to “giving the finger”.

There has been no government response to a union request for a “citizens’ consultation” on the legislation, made on Saturday after a new day of marches which drew a far smaller number of people into the streets than protest marches four days earlier.

Senate president Gerard Larcher voiced pride in the job of his colleagues after their vote – a day before the deadline – saying the body controlled by the conservative right played its role “with only one objective whatever our feelings are, the interest of the country and the interest of the French people”.

Unions maintain that French people are voicing their opposition to the reform in the streets and through strikes, continuing though reduced in some sectors.

The government hopes to avoid using a special constitutional power to force the bill through parliament without a vote. Parliamentary approval would give a large measure of legitimacy to the pension plan.

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