France’s top court on Friday approved the government’s unpopular plans to raise the age of retirement by two years to 64, 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 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.
Ahead of the ruling, heightened security was in place in Paris amid expectations of spontaneous protests.
Macron is now expected to enact the law this weekend. 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.
“I’m not surprised,” Louise, a 23-year-old lawyer, told CNN. I think the council is a political tool, the appointments are political.”
Opposition parties have 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 .