France’s Macron risks his government raising the retirement age

PARIS — PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron ordered his prime minister to exercise special constitutional powers Thursday to bypass parliament on a highly unpopular bill to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a vote.

His calculated risk sparked outrage among lawmakers, who began singing the national anthem before Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne arrived in the Commons. He spoke forcefully above their shouting, acknowledging that Macron’s unilateral move would prompt swift no-confidence motions against his government.

The anger of the opposition representatives echoed the anger of citizens and labor organizations. Thousands gathered at the Place de la Concorde, opposite the National Assembly, and lit a bonfire. As night fell, the police rushed in waves of protesters to clear the elegant Hely. Small groups of the ousted walked the nearby streets in the posh quarter, setting street fires. According to the police, at least 120 people were detained.

Similar scenes are being repeated in several other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in the east to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where storefronts and bank facades have been smashed, according to French media. Radical left-wing groups were blamed for at least part of the destruction.

Unions that have organized strikes and marches since January, leaving Paris reeking of garbage, have announced more marches and protests in the coming days. “This pension reform is brutal, unjust and unjustified for the world of workers,” they declared.

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Macron has made the proposed pension changes a key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is needed to prevent the pension system from sinking into deficit as France, like many wealthier nations, faces a lower birth rate and longer life expectancy.

At the government meeting held in the Elysee presidential palace, just a few minutes before the planned vote in the lower house of the French parliament, Macron decided to use the special power because there was no guarantee of a majority.

“There is uncertainty today” about whether a majority would have voted for the bill, Borne acknowledged, but said: “We cannot gamble with the future of our pensions. This reform is needed.”

Borne drew cheers from the opposition when he said his government was accountable to parliament. Lawmakers could try to undo the changes through motions of no confidence, he said.

“There will actually be a proper vote and therefore parliamentary democracy will have the final say,” Borne said.

In an interview with TV station TF1 on Thursday night, he said he was not angry when he addressed disrespectful lawmakers but was “very shocked”.

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“Some (opposition MPs) want chaos in the assembly and on the streets,” he said.

The opposition representatives demanded the resignation of the government. One communist lawmaker called presidential power a political “guillotine.” Others called it a “negation of democracy,” indicating Macron’s lack of legitimacy.

Marine Le Pen said her far-right National Collapse party would table a no-confidence motion, and Communist MP Fabien Roussel said such a motion was “ready” on the left.

“The mobilization will continue,” Roussel said. “This reform must be suspended.”

Republican leader Eric Ciotti said his party would not “bring chaos to chaos” by supporting the no-confidence motion, but that fellow conservatives opposed to the party’s leadership could vote individually.

The no-confidence motion expected at the beginning of next week must be approved by more than half of the general assembly. If this passes – which is the first since 1962 – the government will have to resign. Macron can reappoint Borne if he chooses and a new cabinet will be appointed.

If no-confidence motions are unsuccessful, the pension law is considered adopted.

The Senate passed the bill 193-114 on Thursday, which was largely expected since the upper house’s conservative majority supported the changes.

Raising the retirement age will force workers to pour more money into the system, which the government says will be shortchanged. Macron sees pension changes as a central element of his vision to make the French economy more competitive. The reform requires 43 years of work to obtain the full pension.

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Leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon told the crowd on the Concorde that Macron “went above the will of the people”. Members of Melenchon’s France Unbowed party were among the first lawmakers to sing the Marseillese to thwart the prime minister.

The economic challenges have sparked widespread unrest in Western Europe, where many countries such as France have had low birth rates, leaving fewer young workers to support retirees’ pensions. Spain’s leftist government joined unions on Wednesday in announcing a “historic” deal to save its pension system.

Spanish Social Security Minister José Luis Escrivá said the French have a very different, unsustainable model and “have not dealt with their pension system for decades.” Spanish workers are already required to stay in their jobs until they are at least 65 years old and are not asked to work any longer. — instead, their new agreement raises the employer contribution for higher earners.


Associated Press contributors include Jeffrey Schaeffer, Nicolas Garriga, Masha MacPherson and Alex Turnbull in Paris; Barbara Surk in Nice; and Ciaran Giles in Madrid.