France’s pensions: Protests erupt as government forces raise retirement age

Paris (CNN) The French government has pushed through controversial plans to raise the country’s retirement age from 62 to 64, which is likely to ignite weeks of protests across the country.

French President Emmanuel Macron will trigger special constitutional powers to approve a pension reform bill, 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 laughter and cheers from lawmakers. “This reform is necessary.”

French Labor leaders called for further protests after Borne’s announcement, and several thousand people gathered in Paris’ Place de la Concorde and several other French cities on Thursday night.

“By bowing [constitutional article] 49.3, the government shows that it does not have the majority to accept the postponement of the legal retirement age by two years,” tweeted Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, one of the unions leading the protests.

According to CNN’s BFMTV, CGT union leader Philippe Martinez also called for more strikes and demonstrations.

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

The government has argued that the reform is necessary so that the finances of the pension system remain in the red for years to come.

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

A constitutional solution

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

The session was adjourned early due to Borne’s announcement. Lawmakers erupted into chaotic scenes as he explained the government’s decision and fought to be heard as lawmakers sang the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” and others held signs saying “No to 64 years.”

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

The leader of the far-right National Rally party, Marine Le Pen, demanded that the prime minister resign.

– After the prime minister just gave the French people a reform they don’t want, I think Elisabeth Borne should go, Le Pen tweeted on Thursday.

Plans to raise the retirement age have sparked widespread protest

Pension reform in France, where the right to full retirement at age 62 is deeply cherished, is always a very sensitive issue, and even more so now that social discontent is growing with the rising cost of living.

However, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, France spends more on pensions than most other countries and has one of the lowest retirement ages among industrialized nations, accounting for nearly 14 percent of economic output.

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