France in Turmoil: Protests Over Retirement Age Legislation Fuel Political Unrest

Opponents of French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension plan stage a new round of strikes and protests on Wednesday as a joint committee of senators and lawmakers examines the controversial bill.

The latest step in the legislative process to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 has led to an escalation of political tensions and has raised a major question over whether the bill will win a parliamentary majority.

At the same time, unions hope the protests in across the country will show massive worker opposition to the plan, which Macron has touted as a cornerstone of his vision to make the French economy more competitive.

The meeting on Wednesday, attended by seven senators and seven deputies of the National Assembly, aims to reach an agreement on the final version of the law text. It is expected to be ratified by the Senate on Thursday, with a conservative majority in favor of raising the retirement age.

However, the situation in the National Assembly is more complex. The loss of Macron’s centrist coalition in last year’s general election forced the government to rely on Conservative votes to pass the bill. On the other hand, left-wing and far-right deputies strongly oppose this measure.

The leader of the conservative republicans in the National Assembly, Eric Ciotti, told the newspaper “Journal du Dimanche” that “the supreme interest of the nation… requires us to vote for reforms”.

But the conservative class is seeing divisions towards the bill, as some intend to vote against or abstain from voting, which makes it difficult to predict the outcome of the House of Representatives vote.

With no guarantee of a majority, Macron’s government is faced with a dilemma: the law is in vote Thursday afternoon in the National Assembly, which would give it more legitimacy if adopted, but there is also the risk that it will be rejected.

Another option may be to use a special constitutional power to pass the bill in parliament without a vote. But such an unpopular move would draw criticism from the political opposition and trade unions for not having a democratic debate.

Train drivers, teachers, dock workers and others are expected to go on strike on Wednesday as thousands of tons of rubbish pile up on Paris sidewalks during a strike in course against the pension plan.

Public transport, including high-speed trains, regional and suburban trains, is also expected to be stopped in Paris.

For its part, the French aviation authority said 20% of flights at Orly airport in Paris had been canceled and warned of possible delays.

Many oil refinery workers are also continuing their indefinite strike, which began last week.

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