Macron cleared to raise French retirement age, protesters vow to fight on

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s flagship pension reform that triggered nationwide protests received the Constitutional Council’s approval on Friday, and officials said it will be signed into law and enter into force swiftly.

The legislation, which pushes up the age at which one can draw a full pension to 64 from 62, has led to huge protests in recent weeks and remains deeply unpopular.

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In what will be a huge relief to Macron and his government, the Constitutional Council gave it the green light, however, with just some minor caveats.

Protesters immediately gathered outside Paris City Hall, holding banners reading “climate of anger” and “no end to the strikes until the reform is withdrawn”, in a sign the Council’s verdict was unlikely to end widespread anger with Macron and his reform.

Opinion polls show a vast majority reject the policy changes, as well as the fact that the government pushed the bill through parliament without a final vote it might have lost.

“We just hope ... that the deep anger of the people, workers and students, resurfaces, and that people get back out on the streets,” said unionized train diver Farid Boukhenfer at the Paris rally.

Unions asked Macron not to publish the law despite the Council’s green light, saying this was “the only way to soothe the anger in the country.”

But officials shrugged off this request, saying the text would be turned into law in the coming days. Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt said it should enter into force on Sept. 1 as initially planned.

‘The fight continues’

The Constitutional Council said the government’s actions were in line with the constitution and approved raising the legal retirement age, with only peripheral measures meant to boost employment for older workers struck down on the grounds that they did not belong in this legislation.

“The country must continue to move forward, work, and face the challenges that await us,” Macron said earlier this week, looking to move on to other reforms.

But the opposition and unions said they would not back down.

“We won’t give up. There will be a great May 1st,” said teacher Gilles Sornay, 65, at the Paris rally, referring to protests planned for international workers’ day.

“The fight continues,” hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon declared.

Separately, the Constitutional Council rejected a proposal by the opposition to organize a citizens’ referendum on the pension reform.

The opposition has tabled another bid for a referendum, which is expected to be reviewed by the Council in early May.

Political observers say the widespread discontent over the government’s reform could have longer-term repercussions, including a possible boost for the far right.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen wrote on Twitter that “the political fate of the pension reform is not sealed,” urging voters to back those who oppose it in the next election so that they can scrap it.

Macron says the French must work longer or else the pension budget will fall billions of euros into the red each year by the end of the decade.

But the pension system is a cornerstone of France’s cherished social protection model and trade unions say the money can be found elsewhere, including by taxing the rich more heavily.

While attention has focused on the retirement age of 62, only 36 percent of French workers retire at that age and another 36 percent already retire older on account of requirements to pay into the system for at least 42 years in order to be able to claim a full pension.

That means the normal retirement age for a French worker who started working at the age of 22 was 64.5, marginally above a European Union average of 64.3, according to OECD figures based on 2020 data.

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