Pensions in France: Protests erupt as government pushes through higher retirement age

Paris (CNN) The French government has pushed through controversial plans to raise the country’s retirement age from 62 to 64, a move likely to fuel the country’s weeks-long protest movement.

French President Emmanuel Macron will activate special constitutional powers to pass the proposed pension reform law, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced Thursday in the National Assembly, which had not yet voted on the proposal.

“We can’t 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 the Borne announcement, with several thousand people gathering on Place de la Concorde in Paris and several other cities in France on Thursday night.

“By resorting to [constitutional article] 49.3, the government shows that it does not have a majority to approve the two-year deferral of the statutory retirement age,” Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, one of the unions leading the protests, tweeted.

Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, also called for more strikes and protests, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.

Mass protests have been taking place regularly across France since mid-January, with millions of people expressing their opposition to the government’s plan. Massive strikes have hit transport and education, while in the capital Paris, uncollected rubbish piles up in the streets.

The government has argued that reform is needed to keep the finances of the pension system out of the red in the coming years.

“The goal is to balance the bills without raising taxes or cutting pensions. There are several options on the table, but they all include raising the retirement age,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told reporters in January, according to Reuters.

A constitutional solution

The pension reform bill was passed by France’s Senate earlier on Thursday, but was not expected to be passed by the National Assembly, the country’s lower house of parliament, where lawmakers were due to vote this afternoon.

The session was stopped prematurely due to Borne’s announcement. Lawmakers erupted in chaotic scenes as she explained the government’s decision, fighting to be heard as lawmakers sang the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” and others held signs reading “No to 64 years.”

Borne also criticized far-right legislators in the lower house for not supporting the legislation.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, called on the prime minister to resign.

“After the blow the Prime Minister has just dealt to the French people, by imposing a reform they do not want, I think Elisabeth Borne should leave,” Le Pen tweeted on Thursday.

The plans to raise the retirement age have sparked massive protests

Pension reform in France, where the right to retire with a full pension at age 62 is highly cherished, is always a highly sensitive issue and all the more so as public discontent over the rising cost of living grows.

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 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

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