France’s Constitutional Council has approved an unpopular plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 in a victory for President Emmanuel Macron after months of mass protests.
Hundreds of union activists and others gathered peacefully in Paris on Friday evening following the ruling, before some groups broke off in marches toward the Bastille plaza and beyond, setting fire to rubbish bins and scooters as police fired tear gas or pushed them back.
Unions and Mr Macron’s political opponents vowed to maintain pressure on the government to withdraw the Bill, and activists threatened scattered new protests on Saturday.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said Friday’s decision “marks the end of the institutional and democratic path of this reform”, adding that there was “no victor” in what has turned into a nationwide stand-off and France’s worst social unrest in years.
The council rejected some measures in the pension Bill but the higher age was central to Mr Macron’s plan and the target of protesters’ anger.
The government argued that the reform is needed to keep the pension system afloat as the population ages. Opponents proposed raising taxes on the wealthy or employers instead, and said the changes threaten a hard-won social safety net.
In a separate but related decision, the council rejected a request by left-wing lawmakers to allow for a possible referendum on enshrining 62 as the maximum official retirement age. The council will rule on a second, similar request, next month.
Carl Pfeiffer, a 62-year-old retiree protesting outside City Hall, warned that the Constitutional Council’s decision will not spell the end of tensions.
The council decision caps months of tumultuous debates in parliament and unrest in the streets.
The council members “are irresponsible, because the anger that will come right after in the country, it’s their fault″, he said.
Bartender Lena Cayo, 22, said she was disappointed but not surprised by the decision.
“We are protesting for so many weeks and the government didn’t hear us,” she said. “Workers who have gone on strike or protested the legislation since January are fighting for their rights, but nothing changes.”
As tensions mounted hours before the decision, Mr Macron invited unions to meet with him on Tuesday no matter what the Constitutional Council decision was, his office said.
The unions rejected Mr Macron’s invitation, noting that he had refused their previous offers of a meeting, and called for mass new protests on May 1, which is international workers’ rights day.
Violence by pockets of ultra-left radicals have followed otherwise peaceful nationwide marches.
The plan to increase the retirement age was meant to be Mr Macron’s showcase measure in his second term.
The council decision caps months of tumultuous debates in parliament and fervour in the streets.
Spontaneous demonstrations were held around France ahead of the nine-member council’s ruling.
Opponents of the pension reform blockaded entry points into some cities, including Rouen in the west and Marseille in the south, slowing or stopping traffic.