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Protestors go to the French Constitutional Council protected by riot police during a demonstration on the 12th day of action after the government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote, using the article 49.3 of the constitution, in Paris on 13 April 2023. (Photo by Jerome Gilles/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Despite Major Protests, French Constitutional Council Clears Plan to Raise Retirement Age

The French Constitutional Council approved a controversial plan to raise the retirement age on Friday, despite widespread demonstrations protesting the change. 

The council—a nine-member body that decides if legislation aligns with France’s constitution—determined that President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 can move forward to become law, which will affect when individuals are eligible to receive their pensions.

Thousands of people publicly demonstrated across France this week against Macron’s plan, prompting a robust security presence to be deployed ahead of Friday afternoon’s council decision. Authorities restricted access to the city centers of Marseille and Rouen. They also limited access to an industrial estate in Le Havre, sites near Strasbourg and Lille, and had riot police on standby near the Constitutional Council building in Paris, The Guardian reported.

The council released its decision Friday afternoon, which allowed the raise in retirement age to move forward but struck down some other measures included in the plan. 

In the ruling, which cannot be appealed, the nine-member council struck down what it said were legislative riders—measures unrelated to budgetary matters and therefore unfit to feature in a budget bill. But it did not reject the law as a whole,” according to The New York Times.

Macron now has until the end of April to enact the plan to raise the retirement age. It would then go into effect in September, gradually lifting the legal age when workers may begin collecting their pension by three months every year until it reaches 64 in 2030.

“But opponents are hanging on to the hope that continued pressure on Mr. Macron and his government could still force him to backtrack,” the Times explained. “There is precedent: In 2006, rocked by enormous street protests, the French government never implemented a contested youth-jobs contract even though it had already become law.”

Additionally, the council rejected a second proposal from legislators that would have provided an alternative way to challenge raising the retirement age.

Macron used his executive powers to push the measure through in March 2023 without allowing a vote on the proposal in the lower house of France’s Parliament. While the move was unpopular, Macron said raising the retirement age was necessary to keep France’s pension system alive as people continue to live longer but the birth rate declines.

“Raising the retirement age will make workers put more money into the system, which the government says is on course to run a deficit,” according to the Associated Press. “Macron has promoted the pension changes as central to his vision for making the French economy more competitive. The reform also would require 43 years of work to earn a full pension.”

French Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne requested the council review Macron’s action in an attempt to end widespread protests that have combined anger at Macron’s power with desires to protect France’s social welfare system and public services. The protests—on their 12th day of nationwide activity on Friday—have disrupted trash collection, blocked Rhine River traffic, and shut down roads and railways.

“Opponents of the pension overhaul, including influential unions, say French workers have battled hard to maintain a lower minimum retirement age than many of its European neighbors—and that this benefit lies at the heart of the social contract in France,” The Washington Post reported.

Those protests have at times overwhelmed public spaces and spread into corporate buildings—such as the headquarters of luxury giant LVMH (the company that owns brands Louis Vuitton and Moët).

Protesters, including union members, have pledged to continue to demonstrate until Macron’s pension reform is revoked.

“As long as the pension reform is not withdrawn, the mobilization will continue one way or another,” said Sophie Binet, head of the union GGT, in an interview with CNN at a protest on Thursday night.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has also pledged support for the protesters, urging mobilization in the city and across France.

“This reform is unjust and violent. The French have been asking for it to be withdrawn for months, the government has to hear them,” she wrote on Twitter.

For more on how to prepare your security team to handle civil unrest and protests, check out “Corporate Resilience: How to Anticipate Mass Protest and Disruption” and “Preparing for Protests.”