December 6, 2023

France’s standoff over a bill raising the retirement age heads toward a climax on Thursday, either via a parliamentary vote or through a special presidential move to force it through the legislature unilaterally.

Emmanuel Macron will meet again with the leaders of the presidential camp to “re-follow” at midday on Thursday, before a decisive and uncertain vote on his pension reform.

Macron has promoted the pension changes, which will see the retirement age go up from 62 to 64, as central to his vision for making the French economy more competitive.

Unions remained combative late Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to vote against the plan and denouncing the government’s legal shortcuts to move the bill forward as a dangerous “denial of democracy.”

Refuse workers are maintaining their strikes, while students plan to march on the lower house of parliament as opponents of the bill pressure the government to abandon it. Nearly 500,000 people protested around the country Wednesday.

A committee of seven senators and seven National Assembly lawmakers agreed on the final text on Wednesday in a closed-door meeting, and a conservative Senate majority is expected to approve it.

The plan is scheduled to go Thursday afternoon to a vote in the National Assembly, where the situation is more complicated. 

Macron’s centrist alliance lost its majority in legislative elections last year, forcing the government to count on conservatives’ votes to pass the bill. 

Leftists and far-right lawmakers are strongly opposed and conservatives are divided, making the outcome unpredictable.

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 at the Elysee presidential palace. 

Yet, no firm decision was made in the government talks that continued on Thursday morning.

Approval in the National Assembly would give the plan more legitimacy, but rather than face the risk of rejection, Macron could instead use his special constitutional power to force the bill through parliament without a vote.

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