PARIS (AP) — France’s showdown over a bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 heads toward a climax Thursday, either via a parliamentary vote or through a special presidential move to force it through the legislature.
The Senate adopted the bill Thursday morning in a 193-114 vote, a tally that was largely expected since the conservative majority of the upper house of parliament favors a higher retirement age. The bill now moves to the lower house, the National Assembly, where its fate is uncertain.
President Emmanuel Macron had an early morning meeting with some leaders of his centrist alliance to discuss the complex political situation in the National Assembly. He is expected to meet them again at noon.
Macron’s alliance lost its parliamentary majority last year, forcing the government to count on conservative lawmakers to pass the bill. Leftists and far-right lawmakers are strongly opposed and conservatives are divided, making the outcome unpredictable.
The French leader wants to raise the retirement age so workers put more money into the system, which the government says is on course to run a deficit. If he can’t get a majority vote in parliament, he has constitutional authority to impose the unpopular legislation unilaterally.
Macron has promoted the pension changes as central to his vision for making the French economy more competitive. Union leaders remained defiant before the vote in the National Assembly and called on lawmakers to vote against the reform plan that is “unjust and brutal.” They denounced the government’s legal shortcuts to move the bill forward as a dangerous “denial of democracy.”
“The elected representatives of the people must respect the will of the people and therefore vote against” the bill, Philippe Martinez, the secretary-general of the CGT union, told reporters outside the parliament.
Nearly 500,000 people protested against the bill around the country Wednesday. Students planned to march to seat of the National Assembly on Thursday as garbage workers kept up a strike that has caused trash to pile up around the French capital.
Macron “wishes” to have a vote proceed at the National Assembly, his office said following a Wednesday night strategy session with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and ministers in charge of the bill.
Labor minister Olivier Dussopt, speaking after the Senate’s vote, acknowledged the government still has no guarantee that the text a reconciliation committee approved Wednesday will command a majority at the lower house.
“We are determined to build that majority,” he said. “That’s our work, our commitment in the coming hours.”
Approval in the National Assembly would give the plan more legitimacy, but rather than face the risk of rejection, Macron could instead at the last minute invoke his authority to force the bill through parliament without a vote.
Economic challenges have prompted widespread unrest across Western Europe. In Britain on Wednesday, teachers, junior doctors and public transport staff were striking for higher wages to match rising prices. And Spain’s leftist government joined with labor unions to announce a “historic” deal to save its pension system by raising social security costs for higher wage earners.