The French government has pushed through controversial plans to raise the country’s retirement age from 62 to 64, a move that could fuel weeks of protests across the country.
French President Emmanuel Macron will invoke special constitutional powers to pass a proposed pension reform bill, Prime Minister Elisabeth Bourne announced Thursday in the National Assembly, which has yet to vote on the proposal.
“We can’t bet on the future of our pensions,” Bourne said to jeers and chants from lawmakers. “This reform is necessary.”
France’s Labor Party called for new demonstrations after Bourne’s announcement, with several thousand people gathering in Paris’ Place de la Concorde and several other French cities on Thursday night.
“Applying [constitutional article] 49.3, the government shows it does not have the majority to approve a two-year extension of the legal retirement age,” tweeted Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, one of the unions leading the protests.
CGT union leader Philippe Martinez also called for more strikes and protests, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Since mid-January, France has regularly held mass protests, with millions of people turning out to voice their opposition to the government’s plan. Mass strikes have hit transport and education, while uncollected rubbish has piled up on the streets in the capital, Paris.
The government insists that the reforms are necessary so that the finances of the pension system are not left open in the coming years.
“The goal is to balance the accounts without raising taxes or cutting pensions. Different options are on the table, but all include raising the retirement age,” government spokesman Olivier Verand told reporters in January, according to Reuters.
The pension reform bill passed the French Senate earlier Thursday but was not expected to pass the National Assembly, the lower house of the country’s parliament, where lawmakers were due to vote this afternoon.
The session adjourned early for Bourne’s statement. Lawmakers were caught in chaotic scenes as he explained the government’s decision, struggling to be heard as lawmakers sang the French national anthem “La Marseillaise” and others held signs reading “No to 64 years”.
Bourne also criticized far-right lawmakers in the lower house for not supporting the legislation.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right “National Rally” party, called on the prime minister to resign.
“After the slap the Prime Minister herself gave to the French by forcing a reform they don’t want, I think Elizabeth Bourne should go,” Le Pen tweeted Thursday.
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 when social discontent is growing over the rising cost of living.
But with one of the lowest retirement ages in the industrialized world, France also spends more on pensions than most other countries, at almost 14% of economic output, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.