French Pension Reform Heads for Final Vote

A protesters kicks a tear gas canister as he clashes with police during a demonstration in Nantes, western France, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Jeremias Gonzalez)

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s Parliament votes on Thursday on President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age by two years to 64 after weeks of protests and fractious debate, and it was unclear if the bill has enough votes to pass.

Macron and his government say the deeply unpopular bill, which has faced huge street protests and repeated job walkouts, is necessary to keep the pension budget in the black.

At stake for the President, who has made this a key plank of his second mandate, is his reformist credentials.

Opinion polls show a vast majority of voters oppose the changes, as do trade unions, who say there are other ways to balance the accounts, including taxing the wealthy more.

The Senate gave its green light to the bill in the morning, as expected. The upper chamber of parliament is dominated by conservative Les Republicains (LR) senators, who back the reform.

The afternoon vote scheduled in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, is a different matter.

Ruling party officials have acknowledged the numbers are tight with LR members of Parliament in the lower chamber split on the reform. LR and centrist groups said they were being courted by ministers hoping to convince them to vote for the bill.

“It seems that the tally does not ensure a win in the National Assembly,” Bruno Retailleau, the head of the LR senators, told Public Senat news channel. “Going for a vote… is very, very, very risky.”

There is another option for the government. It could decide to resort to a procedure known as “49:3,” which would allow it to push the text through without a vote. That would ensure the text is adopted but would be sure to further anger unions and protesters, and would show Macron and his government cannot gather a majority for such a key reform.

But if the government does go for a vote and loses, that would trigger a political crisis and would likely see Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne resign.

Macron told senior leaders from his camp at a meeting in the Elysee on Thursday that he wants to go for a vote in the National Assembly, one of those taking part in the meeting told Reuters.

Even if the bill is voted through, unions and protesters have said they would continue their mobilization and hope to force the government into a U-turn.

“If this reform is adopted, the anger and the contestation of this reform will not end,” Laurent Berger, the head of CFDT, France’s largest union, told franceinfo.

One key question will be the cost of the measures agreed by Macron’s camp to get LR’s support, including a softener for those who started to work early, and a top-up for some working mothers. The government says the accounts will still be balanced as planned but has not spelled out the impact of the deal.

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