FRANCE’S lower house voted yesterday to back President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plan to raise the minimum retirement age to 62, in the teeth of angry street protests and a fierce battle in parliament.
Lawmakers in the National Assembly voted by 329 to 233 to approve the pension reform bill, defeating an attempted opposition filibuster and defying trade union threats to stage more strikes and days of protest.
Earlier, several thousand left-wing demonstrators had assembled on the Place de la Concorde, across the Seine from the National Assembly, chanting threats of a nationwide general strike against the draft law.
Last week, trade unions staged a one-day national strike and managed to attract between one and three million demonstrators onto the streets of more than 100 towns and cities around the country to oppose the law.
But the president’s supporters insist the reform’s key measure – raising retirement by two years by 2018 – will save the state pension fund €70 billion and help rein in France’s soaring public deficit.
Sarkozy vowed the bill would be pushed through, and it remains central to both his reform programme and his personal political survival strategy, less than two years before he goes before the electorate to seek re-election.
The bill will be examined by France’s upper house, the Senate, on September 23 – when the unions have called another one-day stoppage – and it is now expected to pass into law shortly afterwards.
Senators who met Sarkozy over lunch, as their lower house colleagues were debating, said that the president had promised them that they would have a “margin” to modify the law in order to appease some opponents. But the government has made it clear that the retirement age will rise.
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