France's nine-member Constitutional Council on Friday upheld President Emmanuel Macron's controversial plan to push through pension reforms in the country.
The plan, unveiled by the president in January, enraged French workers who have rebelled against raising the retirement age from 62 to 64. France has one of the industrialized world's most generous retirement systems, with workers able to quit years before those in other countries.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne requested the Council review the proposed reform's constitutionality after it was passed through the lower house of parliament by decree in March, bypassing a vote and prompting public anger. After Friday's decision, Borne tweeted that the proposal was "nearing the end of its democratic process," and said there were "no winners or losers."
The Council found that the government's raising of the retirement age complied with the constitution, though six further measures not considered essential to the reform were rejected, as was a proposal for a referendum on the age issue put forth by Macron's opponents on the political left.
Macron's office on Friday said the president will sign the bill into law in the coming days.
Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt said the government is already working hard to implement the changes by September 1.
Unions rejected Macron's invitation to discuss the issue next week and instead urged him not to sign the bill, citing "massive public rejection" of the plan.
Sophie Binet, the newly elected leader of France's powerful CGT union, said no union leader would ever talk with Macron if he signs the legislation, as she urged workers to "intensify strike action throughout the country."
Unions have called for nationwide protests on May 1, International Workers' Day.
Major protests against the move
France has been rocked by general strikes and seen citizens engaged in pitched street battles with police as many aspects of daily life continue to be affected by protests and strikes.
Friday was no different, with protesters blocking streets and highways across the country and demonstrations getting underway around noon in the capital Paris ahead of the Council's decision.
Some burnt trash bins as they marched through Paris, singing a chant popular with anti-Macron protesters: "We are here, we are here, even if Macron does not want it, we are here."
Protests rallying hundreds erupted in other cities, including Marseille and Toulouse. In Lyon, police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators.
In the western city of Rennes, protesters set fire to the entrance of a police station, while other fires were also started in the city.
Demonstrations were also expected nationwide on Saturday.
Opposition says Macron 'out of touch'
Centrist President Macron has said the plan is the only way to keep the country's pension fund from collapsing and he hopes to put it into action before the end of the year.
This is the second time Macron has attempted the move. He dropped initial plans in March 2020, when the burden of the coronavirus pandemic and union-led protests forced him to back down.
Reelected last year, Macron failed to secure a parliamentary majority, setting up a make or break situation as he seeks to uphold his image as a reformer amid fierce resistance.
Opposition political parties have attempted to use the reform as yet another opportunity to frame the slick president as "out of touch” with the needs of normal French citizens.
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen wrote on Twitter that "the political fate of the pension reform is not sealed," urging voters to back those who oppose it in the next election so that they can scrap it.
lo,js/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)