- Written by Kathryn Armstrong
- BBC News
French President Emmanuel Macron signed into law his government’s deeply unpopular pension reforms, which raised the state retirement age from 62 to 64.
It happened hours after France’s highest constitutional body approved the change.
The Constitutional Council rejected opposition calls for a referendum – but it also canceled some aspects of the reforms, citing legal flaws.
After the council’s decision, protesters set bonfires across Paris and 112 people were arrested.
There have been twelve days of demonstrations against the reforms since January.
The unions vowed to continue opposing the reforms, and called on workers across France to return to the streets on May 1.
President Macron argues that reforms are needed to prevent the collapse of the pension system. In March, the government used a special constitutional power to force changes without a vote.
He signed the reforms into law in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Labor Minister Olivier Dussopp said he expected the reforms to come into force by the beginning of September.
After Friday’s ruling by the Constitutional Court, trade unions have made a final, unsuccessful appeal to the president not to sign the retirement age increase into law.
The unions noted that the Court had rejected six concessions added to the reforms, so what was already unfair was now “even more unbalanced”.
Among the reforms rescinded by the nine members of the Constitutional Council is the so-called “big index” aimed at prodding companies with more than 1,000 workers to hire employees over the age of 55.
Dussopp has pledged to improve employment rates for the over 50s in an effort to ease concerns about the financial implications of increasing the retirement age.
The authorities had banned demonstrations in front of the Constitutional Council building in Paris until Saturday morning, but crowds of protesters gathered nearby on Friday and the ruling was met with ridicule.
Some demonstrators chanted that they would continue to protest until the changes were withdrawn.
Later, many fires were set across the city as riot police tried to contain the situation, sometimes using tear gas. A Paris police official said 112 people had been arrested.
Bonfires were also lit during demonstrations in Rennes and Nantes, while in Lyon there were sometimes tense confrontations between demonstrators and police.
Lucy, 21, was among the protesters who gathered outside City Hall and told the BBC she was disappointed “we don’t have the power anymore”.
“No one listens to us, no matter how strong we cry,” she added, vowing to keep talking.
Raphael, also 21, said she hoped there was something in the council’s decision that reflected the great consensus that was in the streets against the reforms.
Barricades have been set up in the streets near the court and riot police have been deployed in case of further protests, which could turn violent.
Lucas, 27, said he worries about the future and what Macron intends for the rest of his presidency.
The Alliance of Left Nubians was one of the groups that appealed to the court over the reforms, and its leader, Jean-Luc Melenchon, said the “fighting” would continue.
He said, “The Constitutional Council’s decision shows that it is more attentive to the needs of the presidential monarchy than to the needs of the sovereign people.”
Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally party, who also appealed to the court, responded on social media that “the political fate of pension reform is not settled”.
Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne tweeted on Friday that “tonight there is no winner or loser”.
And while the court rejected an initial attempt to hold a referendum on reforms, it will decide next month on another proposal for a left-wing vote at the national level.
French political analyst Antoine Prestel told the BBC he did not think there would soon be an end to the protests that have erupted across France over the past three months.
“A lot of people have been saying that the reforms will pass and the Constitutional Court won’t sidestep them, so it’s not a surprise,” he said.
“But I think that in the coming hours and at the end of the week we will witness a lot of riots and strikes in the country because there are still 70% of the French people against reform.”
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