Members of Parliament of left-wing coalition NUPES (New People’s Ecologic and Social Union) hold placards during a speech by France’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne (C), as she confirmed the government would pass its controversial pension reforms without a vote in the National Assembly on March 16, 2023.
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French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday resorted to using special constitutional powers to push his plan to raise the retirement age to 64 from 62 through the lower house of parliament.
The pensions overhaul has been met with widespread protests and strikes across France, with the issue seen as extremely contentious in the European nation of 68 million people.
The plans were passed in France’s Senate on Thursday morning but had been due for a vote in the National Assembly (the lower house), where its approval was not guaranteed.
Instead, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne announced to the assembly that the government would trigger Article 49.3 of the French Constitution.
Lawmakers opposed to the reforms booed, chanted and shouted “resignation” as she spoke, Reuters reported. At one point the session was suspended for two minutes as politicians sang the national anthem too loudly for her to be heard.
Macron’s Renaissance party argues reform of the pension system is necessary to sustain it long into the future. It has a projected annual deficit of 10 billion euros ($10.73 billion) each year between 2022 and 2032, according to France’s Pensions Advisory Council.
However, opinion polls suggest a majority of the public supported industrial action to oppose the changes, which include requiring workers to contribute to the system for 43 years to qualify for a full pension.
Strikes have taken place since the start of the year and intensified over the last week, hitting transport, schools, oil refineries, the public sector and beyond. The action has resulted in trash building up in parts of Paris.
Household waste containers and rubbish dumps continue to pile up on the pavements of Paris streets on 14 March 2023 since garbage collectors went on strike against the French government’s pension reform bill on 6 March 2023.
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Opposition politicians are now likely to request a vote of no confidence in the government, which they must do by 3 p.m. Friday. Both Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Rally and the left-wing France Unbowed (La France Insoumise) have said they will do so.
However, lawmakers are unlikely to vote in a majority to dissolve the National Assembly and hold new elections, Renaud Foucart, a senior lecturer in economics at Lancaster University, told CNBC by phone.
The measure would then go to the constitutional court and most likely become law.
Foucart said the government had its eyes on the next national election, when Macron will not be running. The move means the “entire responsibility” for the reforms lies with him, rather than individual lawmakers who vote in favor of it.
Foucart added the move was seen as particularly contentious as many people that likely retire at 62 were manual workers or people who had started work at a younger age.
“By resorting to [Article] 49.3 the government demonstrates that it does not have a majority to approve the two-year postponement of the legal retirement age,” Laurent Berger, secretary general of the CFDT union, said on Twitter. “The political compromise failed. Workers must be listened to when it is their work being acted upon.”
Unions including CFDT said they would continue to “mobilize” to oppose the reforms and would meet Thursday night to discuss next steps.
Macron’s centrist alliance lost its parliamentary majority in the June 2022 elections. His government has already survived a no confidence vote since then, as it used special constitutional powers to pass the 2023 budget in the National Assembly.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told CNBC in February the reform was a “necessity” to ensure financial balance by 2030. At the time, he said that the government had made concessions, including decreasing the proposed retirement age from 65 to 64; and that he was confident they would get a majority in parliament.