16 March 2023

Macron shuns parliament to force through French retirement Bill

16 March 2023

French President Emmanuel Macron has shunned parliament and opted to push through a highly unpopular Bill that would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 by triggering a special constitutional power.

The risky move is expected to trigger a quick no-confidence motion in his government.

The decision was made a few minutes before the vote was scheduled, because the government had no guarantee that the Bill would command a majority at the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.

The Bill is the flagship legislation of Mr Macron’s second term, but it has prompted major strikes and protests across the country since January.

As legislators gathered in the National Assembly on Thursday to vote on the Bill, the leftist members of the parliament started singing the Marseillaise, the French national anthem, preventing Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne from speaking and prompting the speaker to suspend the session.

The atmosphere was tense outside parliament as armed guards and riot police ringed the picturesque neighbourhoods around the National Assembly.

Earlier on Thursday, the Senate adopted the Bill in a 193-114 vote, a tally that was largely expected since the conservative majority of the upper house of parliament favours raising the retirement age.

Mr Macron’s alliance lost its parliamentary majority last year, forcing the government to count on conservative legislators to pass the Bill.

Leftists and far-right legislators are strongly opposed and conservatives are divided, which made the outcome unpredictable.

The French leader wants to raise the retirement age so workers put more money into the system, which the government says is on course to run a deficit.

He has promoted the pension changes as central to his vision for making the French economy more competitive.

Nearly 500,000 people protested against the Bill around the country on Wednesday.

Economic challenges have prompted widespread unrest across western Europe. In Britain on Wednesday, teachers, junior doctors and public transport staff were striking for higher wages to match rising prices.

Spain’s leftist government joined with labour unions to announce a “historic” deal to save its pension system by raising social security costs for higher wage earners.

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