IN normal time A ruling by the French constitutional council on a piece of legislation is a formality. But France is in a state of heightened political tension after months of protests over President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the legal minimum retirement age to 64 from 62. The council’s April 14 decision to approve the legislation will be a huge relief to the president, whose mind is still on the diplomatic ramifications of ill-judged remarks he made after his recent visit to China Restless. But it is unlikely to end the protests or the domestic political crisis immediately. Far-right Rally National leader Marine Le Pen described the “brutal and unfair” reforms written into law as “a decisive break between the French people and Emmanuel Macron”.
In a measure of nervousness in France, ahead of the ruling, riot police set up a shield in front of the building housing the Paris Constitutional Council, which formerly belonged to the palace of the French monarchy. Nearby protests were banned. Opponents saw the committee’s decision as a last chance to overturn the legislation, which Mr Macron’s government used in March to push through parliament using a procedure that avoids a direct parliamentary vote. Since January, protesters, opposition leaders and unionists have used strikes and marches to demand the bill be withdrawn.
Instead, the nine-member committee ruled that the process used by the government could not be considered unconstitutional. It validated key provisions to raise the retirement age, while rejecting six less important measures, such as introducing a mandatory index to monitor the employment rate of older workers at companies. The new rules will now be written into statute and come into effect in 2030.
However, the decision will anger those who see it as being imposed against the will of parliament and the French people, not least because the council also rejected a petition by opposition lawmakers to hold a referendum on preserving pensions aged 62. Despite Paris’s piles of fetid garbage, canceled trains and planes and crowded metro cars, most French people still disapprove of Mr Macron’s plans. A poll ahead of the committee’s decision found that 52 percent of French people would support more protests even if the reforms were validated. So strikes and marches look likely to continue. Sophie BinetCGT), a Communist Party-linked trade union urged Mr Macron not to enact the reforms into law and called for mass protests on May 1, the traditional day of labor marches.
Mr Macron has invited union leaders to his office for talks on April 18. Although some of them had been asking to do so since the beginning of the year, they declined the invitation shortly after the ruling. It’s unclear what to discuss. The president wants to shift the conversation to other measures that would help achieve full employment in France, one of his re-election campaign promises. He wants to bring the unemployment rate down from the current 7% to around 5%, the lowest level since 1979. But union leaders are in no mood to cooperate.
For Macron, who has had to put the very existence of his minority government at risk after forcing legislation through parliament and thus triggering two confidence votes, the next few days will be a testament to his stewardship of a divided country key test. Ahead of the ruling, the president hinted at his resolve during a tour of the work to rebuild Notre Dame: “Stay the course, that’s my motto,” he said.
Legally speaking, Mr Macron has achieved this goal, bringing about an important, albeit modest, reform. The challenge for the president, however, is not so much his ability to withstand protests as his ability to convince the French that he can govern in a less top-down and repressive way, or even wants to. Do. The pension reform drama shows that Macron has the political strength. But if he is going to introduce further reforms, he will not only need to say he will govern differently, he will need to find a way that is credible and respectful. ■