Macron's pension reform reaches parliamentary battle
The first scheduled vote in the National Assembly is expected at February 17 as the public outrage escalates.
Following the public outrage instigated by the pension reform plan introduced by French President Emmanuel Macron, especially raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, the legislative battle at the parliament has just begun.
The debate between the political parties on the notorious bill is to take off on Monday, just a day before a third round of protests scheduled for Tuesday and called for by the country's major unions.
The French leader said last week that the reforms were "indispensable when we compare ourselves to the rest of Europe," in what was considered a sign that the President has no intentions of backing down on the reform plan.
Some 2.8 million people protested nationwide in France on Tuesday, January 31, during a day of rallies and strikes against pension reform backed by Macron, the leading CGT union said, while the first round of demonstrations was held on January 19.
On January 20, just one day after the one-million-person march against the government's pension reform, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a proposal to allocate a huge chunk of public expenditures to boost the military in 2024-2030.
As popular support for the French leader dwindles as dissent toward the reform grows among the public, Macron considers that the plan was part of his 2017 electoral campaign and thus it was valid for him to go through with the bill.
Read more: Approval rate of Macron, Borne fall to record lows over pension reform
However, his leftist opponents claim that people voted for him in the last elections just to reject his far-right rival Marine Le Pen, and in reality, they [voters] do not agree or back all his plans.
In an interview on Sunday for Journal du Dimanche newspaper, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the government is "asking French people for a collective effort. I understand it provokes reactions, reluctance and concerns,” claiming that the reform aims at saving the country's pension system, which experts expect that it will run into a deficit within a decade due to France's aging population.
In the parliamentary election last June, Macron’s centrist alliance lost control of the National Assembly despite gaining the most seats.
Since then, the opposition coalition introduced over 20,000 amendments, mostly by the left Nupes coalition.
Read more: 200+ strikes planned as French government insists on pension reform
The situation led the centrists to try to forge an alliance with The Republicans party over pension changes since the conservatives in recent years have pushed to raise the retirement age and appear inclined to vote in favor of the bill.
The fierce left opposition to Macron's government and since his centrist alliance lost the National Assembly majority, the French leader had to turn to the far-right parties, including The Republicans, for support.
During an interview for Le Parisien newspaper on Saturday, the head of The Republicans and lawmaker Eric Ciotti, said a “very large majority” of the conservatives will back the pension reform plan on the condition that the government listens to their “accurate proposals".
If Macron pulls off gathering support from The Republicans, the bill will pass in the National Assembly and the Senate, where the right-wing party owns a majority.
Last December, the Bank of France predicted that the French economy will experience a sharp slowdown this winter, from which it will only gradually recover, casting further doubt on President Emmanuel Macron's government's economic optimism.
Weaker demand for French exports, higher inflation, and higher interest rates than previously anticipated mean the central bank expects growth to slow down to 0.3% in 2023, well below the 1% target set by the Finance Ministry. It stated that a recession cannot be ruled out, even if it would be brief and limited.
In addition to raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030, the proposed pension system also slashes some benefits currently offered to workers in several sectors of the French economy.
Read more: Macron should prepare for an early retirement: Spiked
The bill also includes a new condition, which is that individuals are entitled to full pension only if they worked for at least 43 years, while the minimum pension will be raised to 1,200 euros for a full career, in addition to allowing those who started working between the ages 16 and 19 to retire early.
After a demand made by The Republicans, Borne told the Journal du Dimanche that she supports a retirement age of 63 for those who started working at 20.
Some technical obstacles may also get in the way of Macron’s plans.
Aiming to ensure a speedy legislative process, the government introduced the reform plan through a social security budget bill instead of a regular bill.
The bill will be first sent to the National Assembly, which is expected to hold its first hearing on February 17, and then it will be sent to the Senate even if the assembly fails to vote on the plan.
If both institutions were unable to reach a vote within a deadline of 50 days [March], the government would be able to pass the reform through independent decrees.
Experts argue, however, that this approach to such a major national reform would be regarded as a misuse of power and a lack of democratic debate at the public institutions.
Read more: France braces for new strikes against Macron's pension 'reform'