Macron Government To Force New French Retirement Age Through Without Vote

Macron made the pension revamp — which boosts the minimum retirement age from 62 years — a top priority of his second term.
Macron Government to Force New French Retirement Age Through Without Vote
Macron Government to Force New French Retirement Age Through Without Vote

President Emmanuel Macron will use executive fiat to push through his unpopular pension reform that will raise the French retirement age to 64, effectively bypassing the lower house of parliament.

The pension bill was debated in parliament for six weeks before it became clear Macron couldn’t muster enough votes, leading the government to invoke the constitutional provision known as Article 49.3 that allows for the adoption of a law without a vote. 

Macron made the pension revamp — which boosts the minimum retirement age from 62 years — a top priority of his second term, arguing that it was essential to avoid deficits that have been exacerbated by the energy crisis and Covid spending. Opposition lawmakers immediately called for a vote of no-confidence in the government.

“We can’t gamble on the future of our pensions,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told lawmakers in Paris when she announced the government decision. “If everyone voted according to their conscience and consistent with their past positions, we wouldn’t be where we are this afternoon.”

In the event Macron loses a no-confidence vote, the pension bill would be nullified and the government would have to resign. But such a move would require the backing of some conservative lawmakers. 

Millions have taken to the streets to protest the proposal, with a majority of French people opposed to the reform. But turnout plunged in recent marches and polls have shown that a majority of people expected the bill to pass. 

Perhaps the most visible sign of the protests is trash in the streets of cities including Paris, where some 7,000 tons of waste have been left to pile up by striking garbage collectors in recent days. 

“Even if the 49.3 is in the constitution, for us it represents a lack of respect for democracy,” Philippe Martinez, head of the hardline CGT union, told reporters in front of the National Assembly earlier. “The mobilization and the strikes must escalate.”

Macron’s Legacy

The opposition has other tools to delay the reform’s enactment, such as requesting the constitutional court to review or tweak the bill or by triggering a mechanism to call for a referendum. Marine Le Pen said her National Rally party would present a censure motion against the government.  

“Passing the legislation by decree doesn’t mean the problems are over for the government,” Melody Mock-Gruet, an expert in French parliamentary affairs, said in an interview. “There might be a long way to go, maybe months, until the reform becomes law.”

Macron’s reform push was made more difficult after he lost an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament last year. His government has tried to secure the support of the conservative Republicans, who have traditionally backed increasing the retirement age, but senior members of the party publicly blasted the pension overhaul since the first days of protests. 

Politically, Macron had little to lose as he isn’t eligible to run again after his second term ends in 2027. And he’s determined to seal his legacy as a reformer and score a win for his centrist movement.

The 49.3 provision was used in early 2020 by Macron’s government in a first attempt to pass pension reform after months of strikes and demonstrations. The reform was later suspended during the Covid pandemic.

Without changes to the retirement system, it alone is set to record an annual deficit of as much as 0.8% of annual economic output during the next 10 years, according to France’s Pensions Advisory Council. Raising the minimum age to 64 and increasing the minimum period of contributions to access a full pension will eliminate the system’s deficit by 2030, according to the government.

“We can’t take the risk of seeing 175 hours of parliamentary debate come to nothing,” Borne said. “We can’t take the risk of seeing the compromise built by both houses discarded.”

(Updates with prime minister comment in the fourth paragraph.)

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