Macron overrides parliament to pass pension reform bill

Members of Parliament from the leftist coalition NUPES (New Union Ecological and Social of Peoples) hold placards during the speech of French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne (C), as she confirms to force the adoption of the law on pensions without a vote of parliament during a session on the retirement of the reform government in the lower house of the National Assembly, in Paris on March 16, 2023.

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French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday resorted to using special constitutional powers to push his plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 through the lower house of parliament.

The pension overhaul has sparked widespread protests and strikes across France, with the issue seen as hugely controversial in the European nation of 68million.

The plans were passed in the French Senate on Thursday morning but had to be voted on in the National Assembly (the lower house), where its approval was not guaranteed.

Instead, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told the assembly that the government would trigger Article 49.3 of the French constitution.

Lawmakers opposed to the reforms booed, chanted and shouted “resign” as she spoke, Reuters reported. At one point, the sitting was suspended for two minutes as politicians sang the national anthem too loudly to be heard.

Macron’s Renaissance party argues that a reform of the pension system is needed to sustain it long into the future. It has a projected annual deficit of 10 billion euros ($10.73 billion) each year between 2022 and 2032, according to France’s Advisory Council on Pensions.

However, opinion polls suggest a majority of the public backed industrial action to oppose the changes, which include requiring workers to contribute to the system for 43 years to qualify for a full pension.

Strikes have taken place since the start of the year and have intensified over the past week, hitting transport, schools, oil refineries, municipal workers and beyond. The action resulted in an accumulation of waste in parts of Paris.

Garbage containers and dumping grounds continue to pile up on the sidewalks of Paris streets on March 14, 2023 since garbage collectors went on strike against the French government’s pension reform bill on March 6, 2023 .

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Opposition politicians are now likely to request a vote of no confidence in the government, which they must do before 3pm on Friday. Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Rally and left-wing France Insoumise have said they will.

However, lawmakers are unlikely to vote by a majority to dissolve the National Assembly and call new elections, Renaud Foucart, a lecturer in economics at Lancaster University, told CNBC by phone.

The measure would then go to the Constitutional Court and most likely become law.

Foucart said the government has its sights set on the next national election, when Macron will not run. The move means the “full responsibility” for the reforms rests with him, rather than the individual lawmakers who vote for him.

Macron’s centrist alliance lost its parliamentary majority in the June 2022 elections. His government has already survived a vote of no confidence since then, as it used special constitutional powers to pass the 2023 budget in the National Assembly.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told CNBC in February that reform was a “necessity” to ensure financial balance by 2030. At the time, he said the government had made concessions , notably by lowering the proposed retirement age from 65 to 64; and that he was convinced that they would obtain a majority in parliament.

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