France's top court approves most of Macron's pensions reform

Disputed proposal to raise retirement age has sparked months of protests and strikes nationwide

Protesters gather in front of the Paris City Hall after the Constitutional Council approved most of the French government's pension reform, on Friday.  Reuters
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France's constitutional court on Friday approved the key elements of President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform, paving the way for him to implement the changes that have sparked months of protests and strikes.

The nine-member Constitutional Council ruled in favour of key provisions, including raising the retirement age to 64 from 62, judging the legislation to be in accordance with the law.

Six minor proposals were rejected, including efforts to force large companies to publish data on how many people over 55 they employ, and a separate idea to create a special contract for older workers.

The decision represents a victory for Mr Macron, but analysts say it has come at a major personal cost for the 45-year-old while causing months of disruption for the country with sometimes violent protests that have left hundreds injured.

The president's personal ratings are close to their lowest reported level, and many voters have been outraged by his decision to defy hostile public opinion and ram the pensions law through the lower house of parliament without a vote.

“Stay the course, that's my motto,” Mr Macron said on Friday.

Police were expecting up to 10,000 people to gather again in Paris on Friday night, with the presence of several hundred left-wing radicals raising fears of more vandalism and clashes that have marred recent rallies.

The Constitutional Council, a short walk from the Louvre museum in the centre of the French capital, was protected with barriers, and dozens of riot police were on guard nearby.

It remains to be seen if the months-long effort to block the changes by trade unions will continue, with labour leaders saying they would respect the court decision on Friday and support among regular workers waning.

“The fight continues and must gather force,” the leader of the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party, Jean-Luc Melenchon, wrote on Twitter.

Far-right National Rally (RN) figurehead Marine Le Pen added that the fate of the reform was “not sealed” despite Friday's decision.

Last month, a strike by Paris rubbish workers left the capital strewn with 10,000 tonnes of uncollected rubbish, while train services, oil refineries and schools have been affected by regular stoppages since January.

About 380,000 people took to the streets nationwide on Thursday in the latest day of union-led action, according to the interior ministry.

But that was a fraction of the nearly 1.3 million who demonstrated at the height of the protests in March.

In a second decision on Friday, the court rejected a bid from opposition legislators to force a referendum on an alternative pension law that would have kept the retirement age at 62.

France currently lags behind most of its European neighbours, many of which have hiked the retirement age to 65 or above.

Opponents of the law say it is unfair on unskilled workers who started working early in life, while critics also say it undercuts the right of workers to a long retirement.

The average life expectancy in France is 82.

Polls have consistently shown that two out of three French people are against working another two years.

Mr Macron has repeatedly called the change “necessary” to avoid annual pension deficits forecast to hit 13.5 billion euros by 2030, according to government figures.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

Updated: April 14, 2023, 6:04 PM