Decisive day for Macron’s pension bet in tense France

PARIS — France’s showdown over a bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 is heading for a climax on Thursday, either via a parliamentary vote or a special presidential decision to force it to go through the legislature.

The Senate passed the bill on Thursday morning in a vote of 193 to 114, a tally widely expected since the conservative majority in the upper house of parliament favors raising the retirement age. The bill now passes to the lower house, the National Assembly, where its fate is uncertain.

President Emmanuel Macron had an early morning meeting with some leaders of his centrist alliance to discuss the complex political situation in the National Assembly. He should see them again at noon.

Macron’s alliance lost its parliamentary majority last year, forcing the government to rely on conservative lawmakers to push the bill through. Left and far-right lawmakers are strongly opposed and conservatives are split, making the outcome unpredictable.

The French leader wants to raise the retirement age so workers can pump more money into the system, which the government says is on the verge of running into a deficit. If he cannot secure a majority vote in parliament, he has the constitutional power to unilaterally impose unpopular legislation.

Macron has promoted pension changes as central to his vision to make the French economy more competitive. Union leaders remained defiant ahead of the vote in the National Assembly and called on lawmakers to vote against the “unfair and brutal” reform plan. They denounced the government’s legal shortcuts to pushing the bill forward as a dangerous “denial of democracy”.

“The people’s elected representatives must respect the will of the people and therefore vote against” the bill, said Philippe Martinez, the general secretary of the CGT union, to journalists outside parliament.

Nearly 500,000 people demonstrated against the bill nationwide on Wednesday. Students planned to march to the headquarters of the National Assembly on Thursday as garbage collectors continued a strike that caused rubbish to pile up around the French capital.

Macron “wants” a vote to continue in the National Assembly, his office said after a strategic session on Wednesday evening with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and the ministers in charge of the bill.

Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt, speaking after the Senate vote, acknowledged that the government still had no guarantee that the text approved by a reconciliation commission on Wednesday would obtain a majority in the lower house.

“We are determined to build that majority,” he said. “That’s our job, our commitment in the next few hours.”

Approval in the National Assembly would give the plan more legitimacy, but rather than face the risk of rejection, Macron could instead invoke his authority at the last minute to force the bill through parliament. without a vote.

Economic challenges caused widespread unrest across Western Europe. On Wednesday in Britain, teachers, junior doctors and public transport staff went on strike for higher wages to match rising prices. And Spain’s left-wing government joined unions in announcing a “historic” deal to save its pension system by raising payroll taxes for top earners.

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