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French Senate approves Macron’s pension plan amid new protests


The French Senate approved President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular pension reform plan as hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in cities across the country to oppose the changes.

Senators voted late on Saturday to approve the reforms by 195 votes to 112, bringing the package — whose key measure is raising the retirement age by two years to 64 — closer to law.

“After hundreds of hours of discussion, the Senate passed the pension reform plan. It is an important step to implement a reform that will guarantee the future of our pension system,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne wrote on Twitter.

She added that she was “fully committed to ensuring that the text will be finally adopted in the coming days”.

Now that the Senate has adopted the bill, it will probably be tested on Wednesday by a joint committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

If the committee agrees on a text, a final vote will probably take place in both chambers on Thursday. But the outcome still seems uncertain in the lower chamber, the National Assembly, where Macron’s party needs the votes of allies for a majority.

If the government fears it will not get enough votes in the lower house, it is still possible to push the text through without a parliamentary vote through a rarely used and highly controversial constitutional tool known as Article 49:3.

A trade union logo of the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) is seen demonstrating against the government’s pension reform plan in Paris, France, March 11, 2023 (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

‘Now or never’

Unions, which have vehemently opposed the measures, still hoped on Saturday to force Macron to withdraw, although the day’s protests against the reform were much smaller than some previous ones.

According to figures from the Interior Ministry, 368,000 protesters marched through various cities on Saturday. Authorities had expected up to a million people to take part, after a record 1.28 million people took to the streets earlier this week.

Tensions flared on Saturday night, with Paris police saying they had made 32 arrests after some protesters threw objects at security forces, burning bins and breaking windows.

In a joint statement, French trade unions, which have maintained a rare show of unity since the start of the protest movement in late January, called on the government to organize a “citizen’s consultation” as soon as possible.

The unions said they plan to keep up the pressure with an additional day of nationwide strikes and protests scheduled for Wednesday.

“This is the last piece,” Marylise Leon, deputy leader of the CFDT union, told broadcaster Franceinfo. “A lot can happen next week,” she said. “Will the text be voted on in the National Assembly? We have to rally. It is now or never.”

Opinion polls show that a majority of voters oppose Macron’s plan, while a slim majority support the strike action. However, most people said they believe the president will eventually pass the reform.

The government insists the reform plan is essential to ensure the French pension system does not run out of money, but many see the changes, such as raising the retirement age, as unfair to people who started working young.

“I’m here to fight for my colleagues and for our young people,” said Claude Jeanvoine, 63, a retired train driver demonstrating in Strasbourg, eastern France.

“People should not let the government get away with this, this is about the future of their children and grandchildren,” he told AFP news agency.

Garbage cans set on fire as French unions demonstrate against pension reforms in Paris, France.
Garbage cans set on fire during a march against the government’s pension reform plan in Paris, France, March 11, 2023 (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

The reforms would also increase the number of years people have to pay contributions to receive a full pension. Protesters say women, especially mothers, are also disadvantaged by the new reforms.

“Had I known this was coming, I wouldn’t have stopped working to take care of my kids when they were little,” says Sophie Merle, a 50-year-old child care worker in the southern city of Marseille.

Rolling strikes

The protests and ongoing strikes have affected several sectors of the French economy, including rail and air transport, power stations, natural gas terminals and waste collection.

A spokesman for TotalEnergies said strikes at the oil producer’s French refineries and depots continued, while public rail operator SNCF said national and regional services would remain heavily disrupted over the weekend.

In Paris, garbage continues to pile up on the streets and, according to local media, residents are seeing a growing presence of rats.

France’s national electricity production was cut by 7.1 gigawatts or 14 percent at nuclear, thermal and hydropower plants on Saturday as a result of the strikes, a CGT union spokesman told Reuters news agency.

Maintenance was also blocked at six French nuclear reactors, including Penly 1, the spokesman said.

Despite the protests and strikes, Macron twice this week rejected urgent calls from unions to meet with him in a last-ditch effort to get him to change his mind.

The disapproval made unions “very angry,” said Philippe Martinez, boss of the left-wing trade union CGT.

“When there are millions of people on the streets, when there are strikes and we get nothing but silence from the other side, people wonder: what else do we have to do to be heard?” he said, calling for a referendum on the pension reform.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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