How is the pension reform going?

Dhe French Constitutional Council wants to announce at 6 p.m. whether the supplementary budget for social security 2023 is constitutional. The government has integrated the gradual increase in the retirement age to 64 by 2031 into the budget law. Three constitutional complaints were filed against this procedure by 60 deputies and senators each.

What are the complaints about?

The complaints were signed by the leader of the Rassemblement National, Marine Le Pen, and by the four leaders of the left-wing alliance Nupes. A group of Socialists and Greens in the Senate have also appealed to the Constitutional Council. The main accusation is that a supplementary budget does not form the constitutional framework for a structural reform of the pension insurance system. There are also complaints that parliamentary debate time has been shortened both in the National Assembly and in the Senate.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has also asked the Constitutional Council to carry out an examination before promulgating the law. The Constitutional Council has the power to approve the law, to object in part, or to reject it as unconstitutional. The latter is considered unlikely and would mean that the pension reform is annulled.

Is the French Constitutional Council comparable to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe?

Like the constitutional judges in Karlsruhe, the nine members of the Conseil Constitutionnel are nominated by the political bodies. They are appointed for a period of nine years, one-third each by the President of the Republic and the two chambers of Parliament. Legal training is required. The average age of the members – three women and six men – is 72 years.

A staff member of the Constitutional Council affixes a French flag to the facade of the constitutional body's building April 13, 2023 after protesters removed the flags.

A staff member of the Constitutional Council affixes a French flag to the facade of the constitutional body’s building April 13, 2023 after protesters removed the flags.

Image: dpa

The President of the Constitutional Council, the former Socialist Prime Minister Laurent Fabius, is well known to the general public. Former right-wing prime minister Alain Juppé is also on the panel. For a long time, the former presidents were members of the constitutional council for life. President Francois Hollande abolished this regulation. Since the constitutional reform of July 23, 2008, the Constitutional Council has gained in importance, since since then it has been possible to challenge the constitutionality of a law that has already entered into force.

Will the Constitutional Council defuse the pension conflict?

The nine “sages” are independent. They decide on the constitutionality and should not be guided by political arguments. Since its beginnings in 1958, the Constitutional Council has become increasingly emancipated. The decision of the Constitutional Council to refuse the then presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy the reimbursement of election campaign costs due to irregularities is considered groundbreaking in this regard.

In view of the politically charged atmosphere, Constitutional Council President Fabius decided not to accompany President Emmanuel Macron on his trip to China in order not to raise suspicions of fraud. Yet the extreme left accuses the Constitutional Council of defending the interests of the “haves”.

Can a referendum reverse raising the retirement age to 64?

The Constitutional Council must also decide whether to grant referendum requests on pension reform. Since 2008, the constitution has provided that a referendum can be held on a citizens’ initiative. A fifth of the Members of Parliament would have to take the initiative. The Constitutional Council has two motions for a referendum to limit the minimum retirement age to 62. If they are valid, one tenth of the voters entered in the voter lists would have to approve the referendum with their signature.

According to a recent survey by the polling institute Ifop, 71 percent of voters are willing to call for a referendum with their signature. However, the constitution provides for one restriction: a referendum cannot be aimed at repealing a legal provision that has been promulgated for less than a year.

What’s next?

President Emmanuel Macron has announced that he intends to address his compatriots on television after the Constitutional Council’s decision, probably early next week. His plan is for the pension reform law to come into force on September 1st. Unions have already threatened to continue their actions unless the Constitutional Council objects to the law. Labor Day on May 1 should be a demonstration of the strength of working people, CFDT Chairman Laurent Berger said.

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