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France bypasses parliament to enact pension reform

Macron government is forcing through controversial pension reform by decree

The French government has decided to push through President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reforms by decree, avoiding the need for a vote after the opposition filed more than 40,000 amendments to the draft law.

The reform has become the biggest challenge to government since the gilets jaunes street protests which kicked off in late 2018. The decision by the government also comes ahead of important local elections next month.

“I have decided to invoke the government's responsibility on the bill to create a universal retirement system, not to put an end to debate but to end this period of non-debate,” said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in an unexpected announcement to parliament on Saturday evening.

The reform aims to merge 42 sector-specific pension regimes into a single points-based system, which Macron’s government says would be more transparent while also ensuring a more sound financial footing as the population ages.

The government also wants to create incentives to make people work longer, notably by raising the age at which a person could draw a full pension to 64 while maintaining the legal retirement age at 62.
Unions and lawmakers argue that Macron’s reform amounts to an attack on hard-earned benefits that help compensate for salaries below those in the private sector and will ruin public services.

Resorting to the rarely used constitutional instrument to pass the law after weeks of debate has galvanised the opposition, who accuse Mr Macron of undermining the French social contract by cutting back the benefits of public sector workers.

The use of Article 49.3, last used by François Hollande to push through labour reforms in 2016 and before that a slate of business-friendly reforms put together by Mr Macron as his economy minister in 2015, means the flagship pension reform law will automatically pass unless the government is ousted in a no-confidence vote.

Mr Macron is not in such a position as, despite some defections, he still has a comfortable parliamentary majority. This should protect him against the no-confidence motions which were being filed on Saturday evening by both the left and the right opposition parties.

Published: February 29, 2020