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Protest against pension bill in Paris on 6 April, 2023.
Pension reform

French court approves parts of Macron’s unpopular plan to raise retirement age to 64

It paves the way for Macron to implement the unpopular changes that have sparked months of protests and strikes.

FRANCE’S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT today approved the key elements of President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform.

It paves the way for Macron to implement the unpopular changes that have sparked months of protests and strikes.

The nine-member Constitutional Council ruled in favour of key provisions, including raising the retirement age to 64 from 62, judging the legislation to be in accordance with the law.

Six minor proposals were rejected, including efforts to force large companies to publish data on how many people over 55 they employ, and a separate idea to create a special contract for older workers.

The decision represents a victory for Macron, but analysts say it has come at a major personal cost for the 45-year-old while causing months of disruption for the country with sometimes violent protests that have left hundreds injured.

The president’s personal ratings are close to their lowest-ever level, and many voters have been outraged by his decision to defy hostile public opinion and ram the pensions law through the lower house of parliament without a vote.

“Stay the course, that’s my motto,” Macron said today as he inspected restoration efforts at the Notre-Dame cathedral, four years after a devastating fire gutted the Gothic masterpiece.

Police are expecting up to 10,000 people to gather again in Paris tonight, with the presence of several hundred leftwing radicals raising fears of more vandalism and clashes that have marred recent rallies.

The Constitutional Council, a short walk from the Louvre museum in the centre of the French capital, has been protected with barriers, and dozens of riot police are on guard nearby.


It remains to be seen if the months-long effort to block the changes by trade unions will continue, with labour leaders saying they would respect the court decision today and support among regular workers waning.

“The fight continues and must gather force,” the leader of the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, wrote on Twitter.

Far-right National Rally (RN) figurehead Marine Le Pen added that the fate of the reform was “not sealed” despite today’s decision.

Last month, a strike by Paris garbage workers left the capital strewn with 10,000 tonnes of uncollected rubbish, while train services, oil refineries and schools have been affected by regular stoppages since January.

Some 380,000 people took to the streets nationwide yesterday in the latest day of union-led action, according to the interior ministry.

But that was a fraction of the nearly 1.3 million who demonstrated at the height of the protests in March.

In a second decision today, the court rejected a bid from opposition lawmakers to force a referendum on an alternative pension law that would have kept the retirement age at 62.

France currently lags behind most of its European neighbours, many of which have hiked the retirement age to 65 or above.

Opponents of the law say it is unfair on unskilled workers who started working early in life, while critics also say it undercuts the right of workers to a long retirement.

The average life expectancy in France is 82.

‘Necessary’ change?

Senior ruling party MP Eric Woerth spoke for many government supporters today when he said he hoped the country would end up acknowledging the need for the change, but he admitted that “we have not convinced people.”

Polls have consistently shown that two out of three French people are against working another two years.

“Once the volcano has cooled down and people look at things with a bit more distance, maybe in the back of their minds they’ll say, ‘maybe they were right’… the French pension system needed unpopular decisions to conserve it,” he told Europe 1 radio.

Macron has repeatedly called the change “necessary” to avoid annual pension deficits forecast to hit €13.5 billion by 2030, according to government figures.

“I’m proud of the French social model, and I defend it, but if we want to make it sustainable we have to produce more,” he said Wednesday during a trip to the Netherlands.

“We have to re-industrialise the country. We have to decrease unemployment and we have to increase the quantity of work being delivered in the country. This pension reform is part of it.”

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