France’s pension reforms have come into law, a day after the country’s top court approved the government’s unpopular plans to raise the age of retirement by two years to 64.
The decision marked a huge win for President Emmanuel Macron in the face of mass protests across the country.
The Constitutional Council – akin to the US Supreme Court – struck down some elements of the new law, but the most controversial element remains: the gradual upping of the retirement age.
Pension reform in France, where the right to retire on a full pension at 62 is deeply cherished, is always a highly sensitive issue and even more so in recent months with social discontent mounting over the surging cost of living.
Sweeping protests have paralyzed major services across France year this year over Macron’s proposed changes to the pension system. There have been violent clashes between police and demonstrators.
The final approval of the pension reforms – which followed seven hours of debate within the nine-member Council – is a victory for Macron one year into his second presidential term, but the unpopularity of the new law has come at a great political cost with his approval ratings at near-record low levels.
As part of the ruling, the Constitutional Council also refused a first request by opposition lawmakers to hold a referendum on the reform. A last-minute second request put forward Thursday to hold a referendum on the reform remains under consideration.
Macron’s government has said the reform is necessary to keep the pension system’s finances out of the red in the coming years.
From September the first retirees will have to wait an additional three months for their state pensions. With regular, incremental increases, by 2030 the retirement age will have reached 64.
The French government will now be hoping that the protests, which had already shown signs of waning, will come to an end.
But speaking to CNN in Paris, some protesters said they would remain in the streets.
“We expected it. It’s not really a surprise and we don’t really care actually because we want to fight until this reform is abandoned,” said Sidonie Dauver.
“We are going to keep protesting because we need to be respected. People want to be respected towards social rights and social justice. We are against this pension reform,” another protester, Jean-Baptiste Reddé, said.
The leader of French union CGT, one of France’s main unions, has called for a “historic” protest on May 1.
“All French people, note down the date, we have to be in the street to stop this law from coming into force,” Sophie Binet, the head of CGT, told CNN’s affiliate BFMTV, vowing that protests will continue.
“The lives of French men and women do not depend on the opinion of nine people,” she said.
Opposition parties have also signaled they will fight on against the plans.
Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon said the decision shows the council “is more attentive to the needs of the presidential monarchy than to those of the sovereign people” while the far-right’s Marine Le Pen urged those who oppose the changes to vote for her at the next election.
Even with the changes, France’s new retirement age will still be below the norm in Europe and in many other developed economies, where the age at which full pension benefits apply is 65 and is increasingly moving towards 67.
State pensions in France are also more generous than elsewhere. At nearly 14% of GDP in 2018, the country’s spending on state pensions is larger than in most other countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The government further inflamed anger earlier this year by using executive powers to force the changes through parliament .