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Pension reform

In tight vote, parliament to decide on Macron’s pensions reform

In tight vote, parliament to decide on Macron’s pensions reform
French police officers pass by a disguised protester carrying a scythe reading 'violence is the state' as thousands of people participate in a new demonstration against the government's reform of the pension system in Paris, France, 15 March 2023. EPA-EFE/YOAN VALAT

PARIS, March 16 (Reuters) - France's parliament votes on Thursday on President Emmanuel Macron's plan to raise the retirement age by two years to 64 after weeks of protests and fractious debate, and it was unclear if the bill has enough votes to pass.

Macron and his government say the deeply unpopular bill, which has faced huge street protests and repeated job walkouts, is necessary to keep the pension budget in the black.

At stake for the centrist president, who has made this a key plank of his second mandate, is his reformist credentials.

Opinion polls show a vast majority of voters oppose the changes, as do trade unions, who say there are other ways to balance the accounts, including taxing the wealthy more.

“We solemnly ask you to vote against the pension reform,” the main union leaders urged MPs in a statement they read out in front of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

The Senate gave the green light to the bill in the morning, as expected, thanks to support from senators from the conservative Les Republicains (LR).

The afternoon vote in the National Assembly is a different matter. There, LR lawmakers are split on the issue and the government, which does not have an absolute majority, needs their votes.

Ruling party officials have acknowledged the numbers are tight. The proceedings start at 3 p.m. (1400 GMT) and could take hours.

It seems that the tally does not ensure a win in the National Assembly,” Bruno Retailleau, the head of the LR senators told Public Senat TV. “Going for a vote … is very very very risky.”

 

ANOTHER OPTION

There is another option for the government.

It could decide to resort to a procedure known as “49:3”, which would allow it to push the text through without a vote.

That would ensure the text is adopted but would be sure to further anger unions and protesters, and would show Macron and his government cannot gather a majority for such a key reform.

But if the government does go for a vote and loses, that would trigger a political crisis and would likely see Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne resign.

Macron told senior leaders from his camp at a meeting in the Elysee on Thursday morning that he wants to go for a vote in the National Assembly, one of those taking part in the meeting told Reuters. Another meeting with the same participants was taking place at noon.

Speaking on Thursday at the foreign ministry, Macron said the reform brought “intelligent savings.” He acknowledged it was unpopular and added this was a choice “I take full responsibility for.”

Even if the bill is voted through, unions and protesters have said they would try and force the government into a U-turn.

“If there is a positive vote or a 49:3 we won’t give up, the mobilisation will continue,” said Philippe Martinez, of the hardline CGT union. “We need more people on strike … we need strikes everywhere.”

The government had initially said the reform would allow the system to break even by 2030, with 17.7 billion euros in additional annual contributions coming from pushing back the retirement age and extending the pay-in period.

It says the accounts will still be balanced in that timeframe, with additional income compensating measures agreed by Macron’s camp to try to get LR’s support, including a softener for those who started to work early and a top-up for some working mothers.

A centrist MP involved in the discussions on the latest tweaks to the text, Charles de Courson, said the deal would mean billions less in savings than initially planned.

By Elizabeth Pineau and Dominique Vidalon

(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Ingrid Melander, Elizabeth Pineau, John Irish; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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