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Anger as French government pushes pension bill through without debate

ANGER erupted after the French government used special powers to push unpopular pension reforms through parliament without debate on Saturday.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that he was cutting short the debate in the National Assembly to cries of disapproval from the opposition, who he said had held up the pension Bill by tabling thousands of amendments in a bid to delay its progress.

He insisted that the government had used the special constitutional power “not to end debate but to end this episode of non-debate.”

The left-wing opposition La France Insoumise (FI) hit back and said it would table a motion of censure against the government this week, but it has little chance of passing due to Mr Philippe’s large majority.

FI leader Jean-Luc Melenchon accused the government of “brutalising the opposition.”

Speaking on BFM TV after the parliamentary session he said: “Though he puts on airs like an elegant, nonchalant dandy, the prime minister has extraordinarily violent methods.”

Unions walked out on December 5 and have paralysed the capital Paris with transport coming to a halt during the longest strikes in French history. Now further industrial action is likely. 

French President Emmanuel Macron insists that the EU-driven neoliberal pension reforms are necessary to merge the country’s 42 sector-specific schemes into a single points-based system.

Trade unions argue that the reform package would weaken the terms and conditions of transport workers ahead of plans to offer state-run services to the private sector, as required by EU rules.

In a bid to end the long-running dispute last month, the government offered to pause plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.  

The moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) welcomed the government offer. But the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) warned of a “smokescreen” and said it was “more determined than ever” to halt the neoliberal reforms.

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