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 trigger special constitutional powers to pass the proposed 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 jeers and cheers from lawmakers. “This reform is necessary.”
Labor leaders in France called for fresh demonstrations after Borne’s announcement, with several thousand people rallying at Paris’s Place de la Concorde and in several other French cities on Thursday night.
“By resorting to (constitutional article) 49.3, the government demonstrates that it does not have the majority to approve the two-year extension of the legal retirement age,” tweeted Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, one of the unions leading the protests. .
Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, also called for more strikes and protests, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Massive protests have been held regularly across France since mid-January, with millions turning out to voice their opposition to the government’s plan. Mass strikes have hit transport and education, while uncollected waste in the capital Paris has piled up in the streets.
The government has argued that a reform is necessary to keep the pension system’s finances out of the red in the coming years.
“The goal is to balance the accounts without raising taxes or cutting pensions. Different options are on the table, but all include raising the retirement age,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told reporters in January, according to Reuters.
The pension reform bill passed the French Senate earlier on Thursday but was not expected to pass in the National Assembly – the lower house of the country’s parliament – where lawmakers were due to vote this afternoon.
The session was stopped early for Borne’s announcement. Lawmakers erupted in chaotic scenes as she explained the government’s decision, struggling to be heard as lawmakers sang the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” and others held signs reading “No to 64.”
Borne also criticized far-right lawmakers in the House of Commons 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 slap the Prime Minister just gave the French people by forcing a reform they don’t want, I think Elisabeth Borne should go,” Le Pen tweeted on Thursday.
Pension reform in France, where the right to retire with a full pension at 62 is deeply valued, is always a very sensitive issue and even more so now that social discontent is rising over the rising cost of living.
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.