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France bypasses parliament to enact pension reform

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Via Financial Times

The French government has decided to push through its controversial pension reforms by decree, overriding parliament and provoking outrage from an opposition that had put forward more than 40,000 amendments to the law.

The pension reform law — which aims to bring together the country’s 42 different profession-specific plans into one points-based system — had already sparked the longest public transport strike in France’s history before making it to parliament.

The project is the flagship economic policy for the second half of president Emmanuel Macron’s term in office, and has become the biggest challenge to his government since the gilets jaunes street protests which kicked off in late 2018. The decision by the government also comes ahead of important local elections next month.

“I have decided to invoke 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,” said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe in an unexpected announcement to parliament on Saturday evening.

“After more than 115 hours of debate . . . more than 29,000 amendments — 29,273 if my account is correct — remain to be examined,” said Mr Philippe. He denounced a “strategy of deliberate obstruction on the part of a minority” amid cries of protest in the chamber.

Resorting to the rarely used constitutional instrument to pass the law after weeks of debate has galvanised the opposition, who accuse Mr Macron of undermining the French social contract by cutting back the benefits of public sector workers. 

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Philippe Martinez, head of the militant labour movement the CGT, called the move to push the law through by decree scandalous and told French news service AFP that the unions would take to the streets once again next week against the reforms. 

The leader of the far-left political party, La France Insoumise, or France Unbowed, decried the “extraordinarily violent” methods of the government while the leader of the far-right Rassemblement National, or National Gathering, Marine Le Pen said “the French will not forgive this outrageous manoeuvre.”

The use of Article 49.3, last used by François Hollande to push through a slate of business-friendly reforms put together by Mr Macron as his finance minister in 2015, means the flagship pension reform law will automatically pass unless the government is ousted in a no-confidence vote.

Mr Hollande took the call in 2015 due to his government’s small majority which put the law’s passage in jeopardy.

Mr Macron is not in such a position as, despite some defections, he still has a comfortable parliamentary majority. This should protect him against the no-confidence motions which were being filed on Saturday evening by both the left and the right opposition parties.

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