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France awaits constitutional ruling on higher retirement age

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April 14, 2023
By The Associated Press

View of French National Assembly Building and Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo: Getty Images
By Elaine Ganley

France’s top constitutional body was expected to rule Friday on whether President Emmanuel Macron’s contested plan to raise the retirement age passes muster, a decision that could calm or further enrage opponents of the measure.

All eyes were on the heavily guarded Constitutional Council, which can nix all or parts of a 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.

Spontaneous demonstrations were likely 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.

“We’re in a democracy, so everyone can express themselves,” the prime minister told news station BFM TV. “My priority is to bring calm” and to address concrete concerns, she said. She went into the store to discuss anti-inflation measures.

The president’s drive to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64 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.

In addition to ruling on the pension reforms, the Constitutional Council also will decide on a request by lawmakers who oppose the plan to use a little-used and lengthy process that could ultimately lead to a referendum on a proposal for the legal retirement age not to exceed 62.

The council members can reject the pension legislation in whole or in part. Any sections they conclude are constitutional must be promulgated into law, whether or not the council also grants the referendum request.

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.

“The Constitutional Council can only censure this brutal and unjustified reform,” the union said in a statement.

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.

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