French government to force through pension changes, bypassing parliament
The French government will force through contested pension changes by decree, avoiding a parliamentary vote.
In a surprise announcement, the French prime minister, Édouard Philippe, said the controversial measure would be used to bypass parliament after opposition parties filed more than 41,000 amendments to the law in an attempt to stall its introduction.
The proposed reforms have sparked widespread protests and strikes since they were announced in December last year.
“I have decided to engage the government’s responsibility on the bill to create a universal retirement system, not to put an end to debate, but to end this period of non-debate,” Philippe told the assembly on Saturday evening.
He said the special cross-party committee set up to examine the amendments had shown “perseverance” but it was time to call a halt to the “deliberate strategy of obstruction … carried out by a minority”.
“After more than 115 hours of debate in public, during days, and nights, weekends included, the Assemblée Nationale has got to article eight of an ordinary bill that has 65 articles. There are more than 29,000 amendments – 29,273 if I’ve counted correctly – that remain,” he added.
He said he regretted that the deliberate attempt to obstruct the bill had also prevented it being debated.
“As a result, it has not been possible to have a proper discussion … I profoundly regret this, as I’m sure you on the benches and millions of French people do,” Philippe said.
His announcement was met with shouts of protests from opponents. The hard-left La France Insoumise (Unbowed France) party was reported to have filed more than 19,000 of the amendments. The FI leader, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, told French television his party would file a motion of censure against the government.
“Though he puts on the airs of an elegant, nonchalant dandy, the prime minister uses extraordinarily violent methods,” Mélenchon said.
Immediately after Philippe’s statement, Philippe Martinez, head of the powerful CGT union, called for further strikes this week, and described the government’s use of the decree as “profoundly scandalous”.
Several hundred people launched spontaneous protests on Saturday evening. In Le Havre, where the prime minister is standing for local elections, his campaign office was tagged by protesters who wrote “democracy denied” and reportedly threw stones at the windows.
The rarely used decree procedure, known as a 49-3 after the relevant article and clause in the French constitution, allows the government to push through a legislative bill without a vote unless the house initiates a no-confidence motion.
Left and right opposition parties said they would file no-confidence motions, which, if successful, would entail the government falling and the possibility of parliament being dissolved for new legislative elections, but these are likely to fail in the current assembly.
President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist La République en Marche party holds a comfortable majority in the Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of parliament, and is likely to see off any no-confidence motion.
The 49-3 decree was last used by the Socialist president François Hollande in 2016 to push through changes to labour law, many of which were proposed by Macron, then the economy minister.
The changes to France’s complex pension system, which is made up of 42 different programmes, involve the introduction of what the government says is a fairer and more unified “universal” scheme based on points, and were a key part of Macron’s presidential campaign.
The proposals have infuriated public-sector staff – including transport employees, who will lose some of their acquired rights, as well as private and independent workers who claim they will have to work longer for less.
The government argues it is ensuring the long-term health of the pension system, which works by “repartition”, meaning those in work directly fund the pensions of those who have retired. The government has said it will maintain the legal retirement age at 62, but those who wish to claim a full pension will have to work until 64.
Public transport workers went on strike for six weeks in December and January over the measures, bringing Paris to a standstill and hitting rail services outside the capital. Protesters have also clashed with police over the reforms.