French pension reform takes major hurdle in Senate

The French Senate on Saturday night approved the pension reform of President Emmanuel Macron. The proposal, which was controversial among the population, was adopted by 195 votes to 112. This brings the raising of the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 – the most discussed and most unpopular measure in the reform plan – a big step closer.

Because the debate on the reform in the Assemblée Nationale, the Second Chamber of France, was not concluded in mid-February due to lack of time with a vote on the entire text, the necessary support from both chambers has not yet been obtained. That is why a so-called Mixed Joint Committee (CMP) of seven senators and seven deputies will be set up from Wednesday, which must reach an agreement. The text then goes back to the Assembly and the Senate for a final verdict. All this must be done before March 26.

Since the announcement of the pension reform in mid-January, tensions have risen sharply in France. All trade unions and the vast majority of the French – almost 80 percent according to some polls – are against raising the retirement age. And they are not afraid to express this: since mid-January, France has been shut down for a day every few weeks due to nationwide strikes. Trade unionized protests have continued to draw around a million French people at a time for weeks.

Read also: ‘Great reformer’ Macron is now venturing into pensions

Daily life in France is increasingly influenced by social protest. For example, there are currently tons of waste in the streets of Paris due to strikes in the waste processing industry, some petrol stations are experiencing shortages because petrol transports are blocked at refineries and trains and metros are constantly being canceled due to the public transport strikes. An end is not yet in sight: strikes without an end date have now been announced in public transport, the energy sector and the refineries.

Undemocratic detour?

The ongoing social unrest has also had repercussions in political Paris. Both in Macron’s camp and within the Republican Party, which seemed willing to vote for the reform after a number of concessions, there are rumors that not everyone will agree with the reform. That while Macron needs all the support he can get, as he no longer has a majority in parliament.

If it is not possible to get the pension reform introduced through parliament, the government can bypass parliament by invoking constitutional article 49.3. But Macron and Prime Minister √Člisabeth Borne are very aware that this can act as fuel on an already smoldering fire, because many French people consider that intervention to be undemocratic. Borne wants according to the French newspaper Point avoid a ‘49.3’ at all costs, not least because she has invoked it at least ten times since she became prime minister last year. Macron would have less problems with it – he mainly wants to finally see his reform implemented.

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