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Victory for Macron as France’s constitutional council approves higher pension age

The move is likely to enrage unions and other opponents of the pension plan.
Demonstrations against the French Government's Pension Law ahead of a final decision on the law by French lawmakers on April 14, 2023 in Paris.
Demonstrations against the French Government's Pension Law ahead of a final decision on the law by lawmakers on Friday in Paris.Kiran Ridley / Getty Images
/ Source: Associated Press

France’s Constitutional Council on Friday approved an unpopular plan to raise the retirement age to 64, in a victory for President Emmanuel Macron after three months of mass protests over the legislation that have damaged his leadership.

The move is likely to enrage unions and other opponents of the pension plan, including protesters gathered in spots around France on Friday evening as the decision came down.

The council rejected some other measures in the pension bill, but the higher age was central to Macron’s plan and the target of protesters’ anger.

Macron can enact the bill within 15 days.

All eyes were on the heavily guarded Constitutional Council, which could have nixed all or parts of the complex pension reform plan that Macron pushed through without a vote by the lower house of parliament. Security forces stood behind a metal fence erected in front of the edifice where the decision was being made.

As tensions mounted hours before the decision, Macron invited labor unions to meet with him on Tuesday “whatever the decision by the Constitutional Council,” his office said. The president did not grant a request last month by unions for a meeting. Unions have been the organizers of 12 nationwide protests since January and have a criticial role in trying to tamp down excessive reactions by protesters.

“The doors of the Elysee (presidential palace) will remain open, without condition, for this dialogue, Macron’s office said. There was no immediate response from unions to the invitation.

The plan to increase the retirement age by two years, from 62 to 64, was to be Macron’s showcase measure in his second term.

The council decision caps months of tumultuous debates in parliament and fervor in the streets.

Spontaneous demonstrations were held around France ahead of the nine-member council’s ruling. Opponents of the pension reform blockaded entry points into some cities, including Rouen in the west or Marseille in the south, slowing or stopping traffic.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne was interrupted while visiting a supermarket outside Paris by a group of people chanting “We don’t want it,” referring to the way she skirted the vote by lawmakers to advance the pension reform.

The government’s decision to get around a parliamentary vote in March by using special constitutional powers heightened the fury of the measure’s opponents, as well as their determination. Another group awaited Borne in the parking lot.

The president’s drive to increase the retirement age has provoked months of labor strikes and protests. Violence by pockets of ultra-left radicals marked the 12 otherwise peaceful nationwide marches that unions organized since January.

Union leaders have said the body’s decisions would be respected. However, eight unions sent a “common declaration” to the Constitutional Council spelling out their position.

The leftist CGT union said Friday it had filed “more precise observations” with the council. The union said the “the government hijacked parliamentary procedure” by wrapping the pension reform plan into a bill to finance social security, thus allowing it to push the measure through without a vote.

Unions have vowed to continue protest actions in an attempt to get Macron to simply withdraw the measure.

“As long as this reform isn’t withdrawn, the mobilization will continue in one form or another,” Sophie Binet, the CGT chief said Thursday.

The leader of the moderate CFDT, Laurent Berger, warned that “there will be repercussions” if the Constitutional Council gives the French government a green light.

Polls have consistently shown that the majority of French citizens are opposed to working two more years before being able to reap pension benefits.