France’s Borne to meet opposition, unions amid pension crisis

Prime minister says her objective is to ‘bring calm to’ France after violent protests against pension reform plans.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has said she plans to meet with opposition leaders and trade unions after weeks of protests against pension reforms.

Borne’s statement on Sunday came as demonstrations against the pension plan deteriorated into violence after the government pushed the legislation through without a final parliamentary vote.

President Emmanuel Macron has ruled out scrapping or delaying the legislation, which will raise the retirement age by two years, and has tasked his prime minister with finding new support in parliament after the government failed to find enough votes for the bill.

Borne will meet with political party leaders and also aims to restart dialogue with unions over labour issues, her office said, without mentioning the pension bill.

The prime minister added in an interview with the AFP news agency that the meetings with opposition and union leaders would take place in the week starting April 3.

“We have to find the right path … We need to calm down,” she told the agency.

But she also said the pensions reform would go ahead, subject to approval by the Constitutional Council, which will rule on the constitutionality of the legislation.

Borne used Article 49.3 of the constitution to push the draft legislation through the National Assembly without a vote when it became clear the government could not be sure it had the votes required.

This latest recourse to the measure triggered two votes of no-confidence, one of which the government survived by only nine votes — and sparked a furious reaction in the streets.

The protest movement has turned into the most significant domestic crisis of Macron’s second mandate, with police and protesters clashing regularly in Paris and other cities since the reform was forced through earlier this month.

Borne, who became prime minister in May of last year, has now used the 49.3 provision 11 times. But she told AFP on Sunday that from now on, she would not use it outside of financial matters.

Asked about her priorities for the coming weeks, she said: “I have two objectives: to bring calm to the country in the face of these tensions, and to step up providing answers to the expectations of the French people.”

It is unclear if the government’s attempt to draw a line under the pension crisis will calm a majority of the public hostile to the reform and demonstrators exasperated by the adoption of the legislation without a final vote.

Unions have scheduled a 10th day of nationwide protests against the pension law on Tuesday after a previous day of action last Thursday saw the most violent clashes yet with police.

The head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, last week proposed that Macron pause the law for six months to seek a possible compromise.

Source: News Agencies