French President Emmanuel Macron has pushed through a controversial bill that would increase the retirement age from 62 to 64, bypassing parliament and invoking a special constitutional power on Thursday.
The decision was made just minutes before the scheduled vote, as the government had no guarantee that the bill would receive a majority in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.
The bill, which has been met with major strikes and protests across the country since January, is the flagship legislation of Macron’s second term.
As lawmakers gathered in the National Assembly to vote on the bill, leftist members of parliament broke into the French national anthem, the Marseillaise, preventing Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne from speaking and prompting the speaker to suspend the session.
The move is expected to trigger a no-confidence motion in Macron’s government, which has lost its parliamentary majority.
Earlier in the day, the Senate adopted the bill in a 193-114 vote, largely expected due to the conservative majority of the upper house of parliament favoring raising the retirement age. Leftists and far-right lawmakers are strongly opposed, and conservatives are divided, making the outcome unpredictable.
Macron has argued that raising the retirement age will ensure workers contribute more to the system, which the government says is on course to run a deficit.
He has promoted the pension changes as central to his vision for making the French economy more competitive.
However, the bill has sparked widespread protests and strikes throughout France, with nearly 500,000 people protesting against it on Wednesday.
The atmosphere was tense outside of the parliament as heavily armed guards and riot police ringed the picturesque neighborhoods around the National Assembly.
Economic challenges have prompted widespread unrest across Western Europe, with teachers, junior doctors, and public transport staff striking for higher wages in Britain, and Spain’s leftist government joining with labor unions to announce a “historic” deal to save its pension system by raising social security costs for higher wage earners.