French pension change debate moves to Senate as tense parliament session ends

Members of parliament clap as French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne speaks during a debate on the pension reform plan at the National Assembly in Paris, France February 17, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

PARIS (Reuters) – The French government’s plans to raise the retirement age to 64 from 62, which has led to widespread protests, moved on to the Senate after a tense parliamentary debate ended on Saturday.

The final debate on the pension bill in the lower house of parliament was marred by jeers on various sides of the assembly, resulting in an emotional outburst by Employment Minister Olivier Dussopt.

“You have insulted me for 15 days. No-one cracked though, no-one cracked. We are here in front of you to present the reform,” Dussopt shouted towards opposition politicians.

President Emmanuel Macron wants to raise the retirement age in a move he deems crucial to avoid a collapse of the state pension system and to ensure younger generations do not carry the burden of financing the older generations.

However, many in France, where there is already anger over rising living costs, are against the plan. The move is also opposed by far-right and left-wing political parties.

There have been sporadic one-day street protests over January and February, which have passed off mostly peacefully, and more protests are planned for early March.

“The government has a relative majority in parliament so there is real pressure from opposing parties, so it’s a new context because the opposition will take the position of what is being said in street protests, the balance of power is clearly much more favourable to the opposition,” Paris insurance worker Julien Chatel said.

“But we need to find the right solution so as to avoid doing another revolution,” he added.

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