PARIS: The French parliament was on Monday (6th of Feb 2023) to start debating a contested pension reform championed by President Emmanuel Macron a day ahead of new strikes and mass demonstrations against the plan.
The reform is the flagship domestic policy of Macron’s second and final term in office, with the president determined to implement it in the face of fierce opposition from the political left and unions, but also the wider public.
He faces a dual challenge from the street and in parliament, where his ruling party lost its overall majority in elections last year even though it remains the largest faction.
His government under Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne wants to pass the legislation with the help of the right, and without recourse to the 49.3 article of the constitution.
This article allows the adoption of a text without a vote, unless a vote of confidence is called, in a move that would risk stoking more protests.
Left-wing opponents of the administration have already filed thousands of amendments ahead of the parliamentary debate beginning on Monday afternoon.
– ‘Huge mobilisation’ –
Walkouts and marches are planned for both Tuesday and Saturday, although unions for rail operator SNCF said they would not call for a strike at the weekend, a holiday getaway date in some regions, and just protests.
Trains and the Paris metro are again expected to see “severe disruptions” Tuesday according to operators, and around one in five flights at Orly airport south of the capital are expected to be cancelled.
Last week’s demonstrations brought out 1.3 million people nationwide, according to a police count, while unions claimed more than 2.5 million attendees. Either way, it marked the largest protest in France since 2010.
“It’s out in the country that this will be settled, either by a revolt or by enduring disgust” with the government, said Francois Ruffin, an MP for hard-left France Unbowed.
“The government is no longer trying to convince people, but just to win, win by resignation and exhaustion” among opponents, he added.
With pressure growing, Borne on Sunday offered a key concession to win support from the conservative Republicans party in parliament.
While the reform will set a new legal minimum retirement age of 64 for most workers – up from 62 – Borne said people who started work aged between 20 and 21 will be covered by an exemption allowing them to leave earlier, at 63.
Calling the offer a “band aid”, the head of the CFDT union Laurent Berger said that the move “isn’t the response to the huge, geographically and professionally diverse mobilization” that has swept France.
But Republicans chief Eric Ciotti told the Parisien newspaper that he would back the reform, potentially securing a majority for the government.