PARIS (AP) – Sparks are flying over French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age — not just in the streets, but in parliament as well. The proposed pension reforms triggered the most turbulent debate in years in the National Assembly, with uncertainty looming over the final outcome.
Tensions in parliament are fueled 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 qualify for a full pension, among other measures.
The bill began to be examined in the Chamber of Deputies, the National Assembly, last week. More than 20,000 amendments have been proposed, most by the left-wing Nupes opposition coalition. That makes the debate almost impossible to finish before the Friday night deadline. The government denounced the tactic.
“What do our fellow citizens see? Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne asked the National Assembly on Tuesday. “A stalled debate – sustained by the multiplication of amendments… sustained by the multiplication of insults… sustained by abhorrent personal attacks.”
In recent days, several incidents have marred the debate, from lawmakers shouting and interrupting each other to insulting comments towards a minister. In addition, a leftist legislator was banned for 15 days after tweeting a manipulated photo of himself and Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt.
On Monday, another lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party called Dussopt a “murderer” when speaking about the rising number of fatal workplace accidents in France, sparking outrage in the ranks of the Assembly. The MP apologized.
If the House debate is not finished 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 reform the centerpiece of his second term. In last year’s elections, his centrist alliance won the most seats but lost its majority in the National Assembly. That allowed left- and right-wing opposition lawmakers to reject Article 2 of the bill – requiring companies to publish reports on the proportion of older employees – in a vote on Tuesday night. The debate would resume on Wednesday.
The president of the National Assembly, Yael Braun-Pivet, told RTL radio that the situation is “serious” because “we have been demonstrating for a week now… that we are not capable of conducting a democratic debate that lives up to the expectations of the French people. ”
Last week, Braun-Pivet also reported that the bill had triggered anonymous voicemails, graffiti and a threatening letter to the head of the House Social Affairs Committee.
Alexis Corbière, vice-president of the France Unbowed group in the National Assembly, defended the lawmakers’ actions in the debate.
“If you blame legislators for proposing amendments, it’s like you’re blaming butchers for cutting meat or bakers for making bread… A legislator is speaking. If you want silent parliamentarians, try totalitarian societies, but here, luckily, we are in a democracy,” he said.
Sebastien Chenu, vice president of the far-right National Rally party, which opposes the pension plan, denounced the toxic atmosphere in parliament.
“I think this government is irresponsible for having given little time to debate and that the Nupes coalition is totally irresponsible for blocking when we should… vote against (the bill)”, he said.
Opinion polls consistently show that the pension plan is widely unpopular – but they also show that a majority of French people believe it will still be implemented.
“First I want the work to be able to continue in parliament,” Macron said last week. “This is how democracy is supposed to work.”
He also called on unions to show “a spirit of responsibility” and “not block the life of the rest of the country” while carrying out protest actions.
A fifth round of demonstrations and strikes is scheduled for Thursday. Nearly 1 million people took to the streets on the last day of the protest, Saturday, according to the authorities – up to 2.5 million, according to the CGT union, one of the organizers.
Macron’s alliance hopes to win the support of conservative lawmakers to pass the bill.
The Republican Party said in a statement on Tuesday that the French pension system “will collapse in five to 10 years” without changes. That’s why, despite being in opposition, the party decided to support the reform, he said.
However, some Republican lawmakers publicly voiced their disagreement with the bill and said they would not pass it, making it difficult to predict the outcome of the vote.
Furthermore, if lawmakers are unable to vote on the text by the end of next month, the government may choose to use a special constitutional power to force the bill through. Such a decision would be highly unpopular.
AP journalists Jeffrey Schaeffer, Oleg Cetinic, and Catherine Gaschka contributed to the story.