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France | The Senate raises the retirement age but the challenge continues



(Paris) The French Senate has given the green light to raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, offering a stage victory to the government, which is still facing strong opposition to this reform wanted by the President Emmanuel Macron.

“Emmanuel Macron, if you continue, it will be all dark at home! “, intoned strikers from the energy sector gathered in the suburbs of Paris to vote by a show of hands for a symbolic power cut at the construction site of the Olympic village of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The cut announced at the nearby Stade de France was however denied.

Before a seventh day of mobilization on Saturday, key sectors of the economy remained affected Thursday by actions by opponents of this reform which affects one of the pillars of the French social system.

Without creating a shortage at this stage, fuel shipments have been blocked at the exit of several refineries.

The situation is “improving”, however, according to the oil sector: if all the refineries of TotalEnergies were still on strike on Thursday, that of Esso-ExxonMobil in Normandy resumed fuel shipments, in parallel with a slight improvement in the stations. -service.

Transport disrupted

Transport remained disrupted on Thursday and should remain so this weekend.

The French air transport authority has asked airlines to cancel 20% of their flights scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, due to a strike by air traffic controllers opposed to the reform.

The French public railway company SNCF announced for its part a traffic still “strongly disturbed” for Friday, which should continue this weekend.

Internationally, two-thirds of Eurostars are maintained and 60% of Thalys (Benelux), Lyria (Switzerland) and connections to Germany.

Only a third of the trains scheduled to Italy will run and a quarter of those to Spain.

Weakened government

Weakened by the protest in the streets, the government was able to congratulate itself on having obtained the vote by the Senate, however dominated by the right-wing opposition, of the most controversial provision of its reform: article 7 which falls under two years of retirement age.

“I am delighted that the debates made it possible to reach this vote”, welcomed Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, after this vote which took place overnight from Wednesday to Thursday.

Before the National Assembly, where the power only has a relative majority, this article could not even be examined because of the opposition but also the very tight schedule of discussions imposed by the government.

The green light from the senators is crucial for the government, which is walking on a crest line: it wants to speed up the parliamentary procedure while avoiding having to resort to the article of the French Constitution – 49-3 – allowing the adoption of a text without a vote, which would inevitably be seen as a forceful passage.

The government now hopes for a Senate vote on the entire text by Sunday.

“Fuel on the Fire”

Before this deadline, the unions intend to show their muscles again during the next day of action on Saturday, after Tuesday’s record mobilization which brought together between 1.3 and 3.5 million French people in the streets.

Based on this success, the unions asked to be received “urgently” by Emmanuel Macron but have, for the time being, received a dismissal from the presidency.

“When there are millions of people on the streets […], what is the role of the President of the Republic? To throw oil on the fire or to calm things down and say: “we’ll look, I made a mistake”? “Launched Thursday Philippe Martinez, the leader of the CGT, one of the main French unions.

Also opposed to the reform, Marine Le Pen, leader of the far right, assured that the vote for Article 7 in the Senate did not mean that “it was won for the government”.

“I think that, in the National Assembly, there is no majority to vote for this reform”, she assured France Inter radio, before calling again for a referendum on this text, an option rejected by the executive.

Re-elected as head of state in April 2022, Emmanuel Macron plays a significant part of his political credit on this text which, according to him, aims to respond to a financial deterioration of pension funds and the aging of the population.

In the French pay-as-you-go system, created in 1945 and based on solidarity between generations, it is the contributions paid by working people that finance the retirement pensions received by their elders.

In the spring of 2020, during his first term, Mr. Macron had to abandon a previous pension reform, also contested in the street.

France is one of the European countries where the legal retirement age is the lowest without the systems being completely comparable.

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