French court approves Macron’s plan to raise retirement age

Fresh protests erupt after Constitutional Council approves key provisions of French president’s pension reforms.

France protests
Demonstrate gather outside the Paris town hall [Lewis Joly/AP Photo]

France’s constitutional court has approved the key elements of President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms, triggering new nationwide protests against the plan.

The nine-member Constitutional Council ruled on Friday in favour of key provisions, including raising the retirement age to 64 from 62, judging the legislation to be in accordance with the law.

Six minor proposals were rejected, including efforts to force large companies to publish data on how many people over 55 they employ, and a separate idea to create a special contract for older workers.

The ruling paves the way for Macron to implement the unpopular changes that have sparked months of protests and strikes.

The decision represents a victory for Macron, but analysts said it has come at a major personal cost for the 45-year-old while causing months of disruption for the country with sometimes-violent protests that have left hundreds injured.

The president’s personal ratings are close to their lowest-ever level, and many voters have been outraged by his decision to defy hostile public opinion and ram the pensions law through the lower house of parliament without a vote.

“Stay the course, that’s my motto,” Macron said on Friday as he inspected restoration efforts at the Notre Dame cathedral, four years after a devastating fire gutted the Gothic masterpiece.

France protests
Demonstrators protest outside the Paris town hall [Lewis Joly/AP Photo]

Thousands of protesters gathered outside Paris city hall and booed the court decision. Some then marched through the city centre.

Protests rallying hundreds erupted in other cities, including Marseille and Toulouse and in Lyon where police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators, the AFP news agency reported.

In the western city of Rennes, protesters set fire to the entrance of a police station, while other fires were also started in the city.

“The attacks in Rennes… by thugs determined to fight it out are unacceptable,” tweeted Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said that the court decision was a big win for Macron.

“But there is no doubt that it has come with a price,” she said, reminding that France saw months of massive protests.

“Macron is facing a situation where he needs to try to rebuild trust with the trade unions, some opposition lawmakers and segments of the French society,” Butler added.


“All the labour unions are calling on the President of the Republic to show some wisdom, listen and understand what is happening in the country and not to promulgate this law,” the leader of the CGT union Sophie Binet said.

In a joint statement, unions said this was “the only way to soothe the anger in the country.”

“The fight continues and must gather force,” the leader of the hard-left La France Insoumise party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, wrote on Twitter.

Far-right Rassemblement National figurehead Marine Le Pen added that the fate of the reform was “not sealed” despite Friday’s decision.

Last month, a strike by Paris refuse workers left the capital strewn with 10,000 tonnes of uncollected rubbish, while train services, oil refineries and schools have been affected by regular stoppages since January.

Some 380,000 people took to the streets nationwide on Thursday in the latest day of union-led action, according to the interior ministry.

But that was a fraction of the nearly 1.3 million who demonstrated at the height of the protests in March.

In a second decision on Friday, the court rejected a bid from opposition legislators to force a referendum on an alternative pension law that would have kept the retirement age at 62.

France currently lags behind most of its European neighbours, many of which have hiked the retirement age to 65 or above.

‘Sustainable’ model

Opponents of the law have said it is unfair to unskilled workers who started working early in life, while critics also said it undercut the right of workers to a long retirement.

The average life expectancy in France is 82.

Macron has repeatedly called the change “necessary” to avoid annual pension deficits forecast to hit 13.5 billion euros ($14.8bn) by 2030, according to government figures.

“I’m proud of the French social model, and I defend it, but if we want to make it sustainable we have to produce more,” he said on Wednesday during a trip to the Netherlands.

“We have to re-industrialise the country. We have to decrease unemployment and we have to increase the quantity of work being delivered in the country. This pension reform is part of it.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies