France’s Constitutional Council approved an unpopular plan to raise the retirement age to 64 on Friday, in a victory for President Emmanuel Macron after three months of mass protests over legislation that has damaged his leadership.
The move is likely to anger unions and other opponents of the pension plan, including protesters gathered at various locations across France on Friday night when the decision was made.
The council rejected some other measures in the pension bill, but the higher age was central to Macron’s plan and the target of protesters’ ire.
Macron can enact the bill within 15 days.
All eyes were on the heavily guarded Constitutional Council, which could have rejected all or part of the complex pension reform plan that Macron pushed through without a vote in the lower house of parliament. Security forces stood behind a metal fence erected in front of the building where the decision was being made.
As tensions rose hours before the decision, Macron invited unions to meet him on Tuesday «whatever the decision of the Constitutional Council may be,» his office said. The president did not grant a request by the unions for a meeting last month. Unions have been the organizers of 12 protests across the country since January and have a key role in trying to suppress excessive reactions from protesters.
“The doors of the Elysée (presidential palace) will remain open, without conditions, for this dialogue, Macron’s office said. There was no immediate response from the unions to the invitation.
The plan to raise the retirement age by two years, from 62 to 64, was to be Macron’s showcase measure in his second term.
The council’s decision caps months of tumultuous debates in parliament and fervor in the streets.
Spontaneous demonstrations took place across France before the nine-member council’s ruling. Opponents of pension reform blocked entry points to some cities, including Rouen in the west or Marseille in the south, slowing or halting traffic.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne was interrupted while visiting a supermarket on the outskirts of Paris by a group of people chanting «We don’t want it», referring to the way she evaded a vote by lawmakers to advance reform of pensions.
The government’s decision to circumvent a parliamentary vote in March by using special constitutional powers increased the anger of opponents of the measure, as well as their resolve. Another group was waiting for Borne in the parking lot.
The president’s campaign to raise the retirement age has sparked months of strikes and labor protests. Violence by far-left radical groups has marked the 12 peaceful national marches unions have organized since January.
Union leaders have said that the body’s decisions will be respected. However, eight unions sent a “common statement” to the Constitutional Council explaining their position.
The leftist CGT union said on Friday that it had submitted «more precise observations» to the council. The union said «the government hijacked parliamentary procedure» by including the pension reform plan in a bill to finance social security, allowing it to pass the measure without a vote.
The unions have vowed to continue the protest actions in an attempt to get Macron to simply withdraw the measure.
«As long as this reform is not withdrawn, the mobilization will continue in one way or another,» Sophie Binet, director of the CGT, said on Thursday.
The leader of the moderate CFDT, Laurent Berger, warned that «there will be repercussions» if the Constitutional Council gives the green light to the French government.
Polls have consistently shown that the majority of French citizens are opposed to working two more years before they can get pension benefits.