French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne used a special procedure to pass an unpopular retirement bill through the National Assembly without a vote on Thursday, prompting boos and chants of “Resign!” in rare chaotic scenes in the French parliament.
The move will ensure that the bill raising the retirement age by two years to 64 – which the government says is essential to ensure the pension system does not break down – is adopted after weeks of protests and turbulent debates.
The move also shows that President Emmanuel Macron and his government have failed to win a majority in parliament, a blow to the centrist president and his ability to win support from other parties for further reforms.
The pension reform bill was approved in the French Senate on Thursday, but would have faced more obstacles to pass the National Assembly – the lower house of the country’s parliament.
The session was interrupted early for the announcement by Elisabeth, who also criticized far-right lawmakers in the Chamber of Deputies for not supporting the legislation.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally party, called for the prime minister’s resignation. “After the slap the Prime Minister just gave the French people by imposing a reform they don’t want, I think Elisabeth Borne should leave,” Le Pen tweeted on Thursday.
Elisabeth was greeted with boos and jeers when she arrived at the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, to announce that she would invoke Article 49.3 of the constitution to skip the vote on reform measures.
The session was suspended for two minutes after left-wing lawmakers singing the national anthem prevented Elisabeth from speaking. Some held signs reading “No at 64”.
When the session resumed, Elisabeth took the floor, but her speech was drowned out by the same boos and screams.
“We cannot gamble on the future of our pensions, this reform is necessary,” Elisabeth told legislators, to explain why she was using procedure 49.3.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Elisabeth should step down. “This last-minute appeal to 49.3 is an extraordinary sign of weakness,” she said, adding: “She must leave.”
Asked about a possible resignation in an interview with the TF1 television nightly news, Elisabeth Borne said she still has a lot of work ahead of her: “There is the energy crisis, the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine continues,” she said.
As she spoke, a spontaneous and unplanned protest of around 7,000 people against the reform continued into the night in Paris’ Place de la Concorde, across the Seine River from parliament.
Police fired tear gas and moved forward in an attempt to disperse the crowd, while some demonstrators threw stones. In several other French cities, including Marseille, there were also spontaneous protests against the reform.
French unions have called for another day of strikes and action against the reform next Thursday, March 23.
Opinion polls show that the vast majority of voters are opposed to pension reform, as are unions, who say there are other ways to balance the books, including taxing the rich more.
The government’s use of the 49.3 procedure is likely to further anger unions, protesters and left-wing opposition parties, who say the pension reform is unfair and unnecessary.
Socialist Party chief Olivier Faure told media on Thursday such a move could unleash “uncontrollable rage” after weeks of ongoing strikes and protests that have hit power output, blocked some shipments from refineries and seen rubbish pile up. on the streets of Paris.
“We are as determined as ever,” said CGT unionist Christophe Jouanneau at a striking refinery in the western French city of Donges. “Starting next week, we’re going to speed things up.”
The opposition parties said they would ask for a vote of no confidence in the government, which will be voted on in the next few days, possibly on Monday (20).
The measure is unlikely to pass, as a majority of Conservative lawmakers are not expected to support it – unless a surprise alliance of lawmakers from all sides is formed, from the far left to the far right and including the Conservatives.
The government had initially said the reform would allow the system to break even until 2030, with €17.7 billion in additional annual contributions coming from postponing the retirement age and extending the pay period.
At least 310 people have been arrested across France as the government faces backlash for pushing through pension reforms.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told French radio RTL that most of the arrests made on Thursday night – 258 – were in Paris. Although calm returned to the capital’s streets on Friday morning, government ministers were on the defensive following impromptu protests on Thursday night.
Government spokesman Olivier Veran and Budget Minister Gabriel Attal echoed President Emmanuel Macron’s assertion that the government did not want to use its constitutional power to pass the law. They were talking to French agencies, LCI and France Inter respectively.
“If we don’t [as reformas] today, it will be much more brutal measures that we will have to do in the future”, said Attal.
Protesters briefly blocked the Paris ring road on Friday morning in protest against pension reform, causing long delays for the morning commute, according to the Paris affiliate. CNN BFMTV.
And a street sweeper strike continues that has left many streets of Paris littered with garbage bags. Interior Minister Darmanin said he would order the police to force some of them to work.
“I respect the garbage collectors’ strike”, he said, “however, what is not acceptable are the unsanitary conditions”.
In a note Thursday night, the Ministry of the Interior, in the context of the reaction to the reform, called on the security forces to “firmly maintain” the protections of elected officials in France, who, “sometimes are the object of threats, insults or even malicious acts such as damage to property.”
“By resorting to [artigo constitucional] 49.3, the government demonstrates that it does not have a majority to approve the two-year postponement of the legal retirement age,” Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, one of the unions leading the protests, posted on Twitter. .
Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, also called for more strikes and protests, according to the CGT affiliate. CNN BFMTV.
Massive protests have been taking place regularly across France since mid-January, with millions voicing their opposition to the government’s plan. Mass strikes hit transport and education.
Pension reform in France, where the right to retire on a full pension at age 62 is deeply valued, is always a highly sensitive issue and even more so now with increasing social discontent over the rising cost of living.
But with one of the lowest retirement ages in the industrialized world, France also outspends most other countries on pensions at nearly 14% of economic output, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
(Published by Lucas Rocha, with information from CNN and Reuters)
Source: CNN Brasil
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