French president uses special power to enact pension bill without vote

France's government on Thursday invoked a special constitutional power to enact a contentious pension bill without a vote in parliament, in a risky move by President Emmanuel Macron.

The bill will raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, and is the flagship legislation of Macron's second term

French parliamentarians stand holding signs to protest against a government bill on pension reforms.
Members of parliament of the left hold placards and sing the Marseillaise, the French national anthem, as French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne arrives to deliver a speech on the pension reform bill at the National Assembly in Paris, on Thursday. (Pascal Rossignol/Reuters)

French President Emmanuel Macron shunned parliament and opted to push through a highly unpopular bill that would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 by triggering a special constitutional power on Thursday.

The risky move is expected to trigger a quick no-confidence motion in Macron's government.

The decision was made just a few minutes before the vote was scheduled, because the government had no guarantee that the bill would command a majority at the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament.

The bill is the flagship legislation of Macron's second term. The unpopular plan has prompted major strikes and protests across the country since January.

WATCH | Mounds of trash pile up on Paris streets as strikes continue:

The Eiffel Tower, l'Arc de Triomphe ... the pile of garbage? Tourists in Paris stunned

8 days ago
Duration 0:52
Tourists encountered overflowing trash bins that have blocked sidewalks on the streets of Paris on Thursday. Most of the city waste remained uncollected as garbage collectors strike against the French government's plans to raise the retirement age to 64.

As lawmakers gathered in the National Assembly Thursday to vote on the bill, the leftist members of parliament broke into the Marseillaise, the French national anthem, preventing Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne from speaking and prompting the speaker to suspend the session.

The atmosphere was tense outside of parliament as heavily armed guards and riot police ringed the picturesque neighbourhoods around the National Assembly.

Earlier Thursday, the Senate adopted the bill in a 193-114 vote, a tally that was largely expected since the conservative majority of the upper house of parliament favours raising the retirement age.

Macron's alliance lost its parliamentary majority last year, forcing the government to count on conservative lawmakers to pass the bill. Leftists and far-right lawmakers are strongly opposed and conservatives are divided, which made the outcome unpredictable.

The French leader wants to raise the retirement age so workers put more money into the system, which the government says is on course to run a deficit.

Macron has promoted the pension changes as central to his vision for making the French economy more competitive.

Nearly 500,000 people protested against the bill around the country Wednesday.

Economic challenges have prompted widespread unrest across western Europe. In Britain on Wednesday, teachers, junior doctors and public transport staff were striking for higher wages to match rising prices. And Spain's leftist government joined with labour unions to announce a "historic" deal to save its pension system by raising social security costs for higher wage earners.