PARIS (AP) — French senators will start debating President Emmanuel Macron's contested pension plan on Thursday, as the centrist government hopes to find a compromise with the conservatives at the upper house of parliament to be able to push the bill through.
Macron has vowed to go ahead with the bill, which aims to raise the country’s minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, despite nationwide demonstrations and strikes and opinion polls consistently showing a majority of French people oppose the change.
Workers unions and youth organizations pledged to “bring France to a standstill” during the next protest, which is scheduled for March 7.
The National Assembly’s two-week discussion last month has featured flaring tempers and thousands of amendments proposed mostly by the left-wing opposition, making it impossible for lawmakers to examine the full bill.
At the Senate, dominated by The Republicans, talks are expected to be smoother for government officials. Conservative senators have for years pushed for raising the minimum retirement age.
The head of The Republicans senators, Bruno Retailleau, said in a recent interview with Le Parisien newspaper that “we want to vote" for the bill "after making changes.”
Conservative senators are proposing an amendment to grant a 5% pension bonus to working mothers. Government officials said they were open to discussion on including such a measure.
The Republicans senators also support creating a special contract to incite companies to keep or hire older workers close to retirement, in exchange for paying less taxes.
The debate is scheduled to last until the end of next week.
If the bill is approved by the Senate, it will continue making its way through France's complex legislative process.
A committee made up of legislators from both houses of parliament will then seek a potential deal on a joint version of the text, to be eventually presented for approval at the National Assembly and then the Senate by the end of the month.
Macron’s centrist alliance has the most seats in the National Assembly, but lost its majority in legislative elections last year. Therefore, it needs to count on the support from the right to be able to pass the bill.
Yet some Republican lawmakers have publicly expressed their disagreement and said they won’t approve it, making the outcome of a vote at the National Assembly hard to predict.
Another option for the government would be to use a special constitutional power to force the bill through without a vote — a risky choice given such a decision would be highly unpopular.