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Macron uses special constitutional power to raise France's retirement age


Big news in France. French President Emmanuel Macron will raise the retirement age in his country from 62 to 64. This is a very unpopular pension change, but the French government has decided to force it through without a vote, even though a vote had been scheduled for today. With us live is Noemie Bisserbe. She covers French politics and foreign policy at The Wall Street Journal. Hi, Noemie.

NOEMIE BISSERBE: Good morning.

PFEIFFER: Macron is able to do this by using a constitutional article that lets the government push through bills without a vote by part of its Parliament. Was this expected, or is this a curveball?

BISSERBE: So this was not totally unexpected, I would say. Macron no longer has a majority at the National Assembly, so he needed the support of the conservative party les Republicains to pass the overhaul. And clearly, he wasn't confident he could get the support from all conservative lawmakers. So he didn't want to take a chance and just used this provision.

PFEIFFER: So this lets him avoid potential failure.

BISSERBE: Exactly.

PFEIFFER: The proposed change to the - just the proposal had been causing strikes for weeks, public transportation disrupted, garbage piling up. Now that it's going to be pushed through, what reaction are you hearing, even though I know it just happened recently?

BISSERBE: Well, I think that this move is going to give political ammunition to opposition parties who already often criticize Macron for what they say is a bit of an authoritarian approach. And also when Macron was reelected last year, he said he would do things differently this time around and that he would ditch his, at times, a bit top-down approach. And clearly, this is not what he's doing here.

PFEIFFER: You mentioned ammunition. I read that at least one French legislator is floating the idea of a no-confidence vote. Is that the kind of thing you expect to happen? And if so, is it likely, too, that he would lose that no confidence vote?

BISSERBE: So that's already happening. Opposition parties have said that they will retaliate with a no confidence - with no-confidence motions. And if they are successful, then it would force the government to resign. In such a case, Macron actually has said that he would dissolve the Parliament and called for new legislative elections. Again, it's really hard to say what will happen because much will depend on les Republicains, once again, the conservative party. And if they decide to back a no-confidence vote, that will make all the difference. But will they be willing to risk their seats? I mean, I'm not quite sure they will.

PFEIFFER: Other than a possible no-confidence vote, is there anything that could be done to block this, any appellate process? Or is it a done deal, the retirement age will be raised?

BISSERBE: Well, this move, using this special provision, is going to fuel more protests and is going to anger people even more. So he's going to - the battle with the streets is not - is clearly not over. So there is - unions are going to continue to fight to try to get the government to reverse course on that plan.

PFEIFFER: And in maybe about 20 seconds, can you tell us why does the government say it wants to raise the retirement age?

BISSERBE: Well, the government thinks that it's the only way to save our current pension system without raising taxes or increasing our country's debt.

PFEIFFER: Because it's an expensive system.

BISSERBE: Because it's an expensive system that is today running a deficit and that that deficit is going to increase.

PFEIFFER: That is Wall Street Journal reporter Noemie Bisserbe. She covers French politics. Thank you very much.

BISSERBE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.