Riot police deployed as French court prepares to rule on pension changes

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Protesters blocked roads and industrial sites in parts of France on Friday as the country’s top constitutional court prepares to deliver its verdict on Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Access to urban centers in Marseille and Rouen has been restricted, and an industrial estate in Le Havre and other sites near Strasbourg and Lille have been blocked.

In Paris, armed riot police were standing by near the heavily guarded building of the constitutional council, a nine-member body that decides whether legislation is in line with the constitution. All street demonstrations have been banned in the area, some subway stations have been closed and three-metre-high security screens have been installed.

The council will announce late Friday afternoon whether it has approved the changes to Macron’s pensions, after the prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, asked for her opinion. The government hopes this can end months of protests over Macron’s plans to raise the minimum eligible retirement age.

If the constitutional council approves the bill, it will pave the way for it to be quickly signed into law and enter into force by the end of the year.

The government is looking for a way to end nearly three months of protests, which have sometimes culminated in violence and clashes with the police. They have concentrated a sense of widespread anger against Macron, with protesters saying they want to protect France’s broader social welfare system and public services.

Union members protest against Macron's pension changes in Montpellier

Union members protest against Macron’s pension changes in Montpellier. Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

The government argues that raising the minimum age for a state pension is necessary to keep the system afloat as the population ages.

When the government used an executive order last month to pass pension changes without a parliamentary vote, protests escalated and protesters, including many students, said they were angry at a political system that failed to listen to the concerns of the street.

Lawyers complained that the protests were heavily policed. Polls have shown that two-thirds of the French public are against pension changes.

Constitutional experts said the council was unlikely to roll back the whole set of changes to Macron’s pensions. Some measures to boost employment of older workers are thought more likely to be rejected as not part of legislation that has been added to a social security budget bill, but the retirement age is expected to be raised at 64 to support.

If the council cancels the whole package of changes, it will be a huge blow to Macron and the government.

The Giunta will also pronounce itself on a request by left-wing politicians for a popular referendum on pensions. If approved, opposition parties would have to collect nearly 5 million signatures in favor of a referendum, a process that would take nine months and would fall to the government.

“He would put a sword of Damocles [above our heads] for nine months. It would not be easy, but we would not be as paralyzed as we have been in recent weeks,” a government source told Reuters.

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