Times Standard (Eureka)

Pension tension triggers turbulent parliament debate

- By Sylvie Corbet

Sparks are flying over French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age — not just in the streets, but in parliament too. The proposed pension reforms have unleashed the most turbulent debate in years in the National Assembly, with uncertaint­y looming over the final outcome.

Tensions at parliament are fed by the unpopulari­ty of the reform aimed at raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 and requiring people to have worked for at least 43 years to be entitled to a full pension.

The bill started being examined in the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, last week. Over 20,000 amendments have been proposed, mostly by the leftist opposition coalition Nupes. This makes the debate almost impossible to finish before a Friday night deadline. The government denounced the tactic.

“What do our fellow citizens see? asked Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne at the National Assembly on Tuesday. “A held-up debate — held up by the multiplica­tion of amendments... held up by the multiplica­tion of insults… held up by abhorrent personal attacks.”

In recent days, multiple incidents have marked the debate, from legislator­s shouting and interrupti­ng each other to insulting remarks toward a minister. In addition, a leftist lawmaker was excluded for 15 days after he tweeted a photo of himself and a soccer ball representi­ng the head of Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt.

On Monday, another lawmaker of the hard-left France Unbowed party called Dussopt “a murderer” while speaking about growing numbers of fatal workplace accidents in France, prompting outrage across the Assembly’s ranks. The lawmaker apologized.

If the debate is not over in the lower house by Friday, the bill will be sent without a vote to the Senate. The end of the legislativ­e process is not expected before next month.

The parliament­ary situation is challengin­g for Macron, who has made the reform the centerpiec­e of his second term in office. In last year’s elections, his centrist alliance won the most seats but lost its majority in the National Assembly. That allowed opposition lawmakers from the left and the right to reject article 2 of the bill — requiring companies to publish reports about the proportion of older employees — in a vote late on Tuesday evening. The debate was to resume Wednesday.

The speaker of the National Assembly, Yael Braun-Pivet, said on RTL radio that the situation is “serious” because “we have been demonstrat­ing for a week … that we are not able to conduct a democratic debate up to the French people’s expectatio­ns.”

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