France: Top Court Backs Macron’s Pensions Reform
By Théo Bourgery-Gonse
(EurActiv) — The Conseil Constitutionnel, France’s top Court, ruled on Friday (14 April) that the pensions reform was in line with the Constitution, including raising the legal retirement age from 62 to 64.
It found that raising the legal age was “appropriate” in meeting the government’s objectives to ensure the pensions systems would come closer to becoming financial viable, according to the final decision.
The Court further ruled that the use of a mix of constitutional tools to speed up parliamentary debates was lawful under the Constitution, though “unusual”, such that the government was in its rights to use them to their fullest extent.
The pension reform has been a source of significant political tension ever since it was first introduced in January. A large majority of French people have been opposed to the bill, especially the raising of the legal retirement age.
However, a number of articles within the pensions reform were censored, and thus removed, on the grounds that they did not “fit” within the scope of the bill as a whole, the decision further reads.
This includes a measure to require companies to publish the proportion of 55-year-olds and over in their workforce. Another provision over the creation of a new over-55 contract was also rejected.
The Council’s task
The Constitutional Council had been tasked by both the government and opposition parties – from both sides of the aisle – in late March to check over the legality of the reform.
The opposition had raised questions over the legality of the legislative tool, article 47-1 of the Constitution, used to push the reform through, which effectively capped debates to 20 days total in each House.
However, the article only applies to budget laws – and critics have argued the reform is not just about budgetary concerns, but rather represents a radical overhaul of the pensions system as it currently works in France.
The Council thus needed to determine whether the use of such a legal tool is indeed constitutional – which it found it was.
It is the first time since the Council’s creation in 1958 that it had to rule on such grounds.
Further, oppositions asked the Court to consider whether the extensive use of Constitutional powers – including the bill’s adoption without a vote using another article of the Constitution, 49-3 – led to “flawed, insincere and incorrect” information about the specifics of the legislation, according to the formal request filed by the left-wing NUPES coalition.
This, the request’s signatories argued, prevented lawmakers from reaching a sound and informed decision – but the Court ruled in the opposite direction.
Finally, the Court was asked to look into the triggering of a so-called ‘citizens’ referendum’, that would aim to cap the legal retirement age to 62 years old. This was overruled, on the grounds that this would have required the retirement age to stand at 64 in law before any referendum could be triggered.
Protests to continue
Protestors have been fighting back against raising the legal retirement age from 62 to 64, arguing that it had unequal distributional effects. According to them, raising the age would hurt those close to retirement and the poorest segments of the population who cannot afford to retire early the most.
The government, on the other hand, stood its ground, arguing that the reform was critical to redressing public finances.
“Never giving up, that’s my motto,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday, hours before the ruling was made public.
Minutes after the publication of the Court’s decision, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said: “This marks the end of the legislative and constitutional process.”
Both trade unions and opposition parties have vowed to continue protests until the reform is put off in its entirety. By the time the ruling was out, a spontaneous march had taken up momentum in central Paris.
Emmanuel Macron can now sign the reform into law.