France’s Constitutional Council has approved an unpopular plan to raise the retirement age to 64 in a victory for President Emmanuel Macron after three months of mass protests over the legislation.
The move is likely to enrage unions and other opponents of the pension plan, including protesters gathered in towns and cities around France on Friday evening as the decision was announced.
The council rejected some other measures in the pension Bill but the higher age was central to Mr Macron’s plan and the target of protesters’ anger.
In a separate but related decision, the council rejected a request by left-wing lawmakers to allow for a possible referendum on enshrining 62 as the maximum official retirement age. The council will rule on a similar request next month.
Security forces stood behind a metal fence erected in front of the heavily guarded Constitutional Council.
As tensions mounted hours before the decision, Mr Macron invited unions to meet him on Tuesday “whatever the decision by the Constitutional Council”, his office said.
The president did not grant a request last month by unions for a meeting. Unions have been the organisers of 12 nationwide protests since January and have a critical role in trying to tamp down excessive reactions by protesters.
“The doors of the Elysee (presidential palace) will remain open, without condition, for this dialogue,” Mr Macron’s office said.
The plan to increase the retirement age was meant to be Mr Macron’s showcase measure in his second term.
The council decision caps months of tumultuous debates in parliament and unrest in the streets.
Spontaneous demonstrations were held around France ahead of the nine-member council’s ruling. Opponents of the pension reform blocked entry points into some cities, including Rouen in the west and Marseille in the south, slowing or stopping traffic.
French prime minister Elisabeth Borne was interrupted while visiting a supermarket outside Paris by a group of people chanting “we don’t want it,” referring to the way she skirted the vote by lawmakers to advance the pension reform.
The government’s decision to get around a parliamentary vote in March by using special constitutional powers heightened the fury of the measure’s opponents, as well as their determination. Another group awaited Ms Borne in the car park.
“We’re in a democracy, so everyone can express themselves,” the prime minister told news station BFM TV. “My priority is to bring calm” and to address concrete concerns, she said. She went into the store to discuss anti-inflation measures.
The president’s drive to increase the retirement age has provoked months of strikes and protests. Violence by pockets of ultra-left radicals came in contrast to the 12 otherwise peaceful nationwide marches that unions organised since January.
Unions have vowed to continue protest action in an attempt to get Mr Macron to withdraw the measure.
“As long as this reform isn’t withdrawn, the mobilisation will continue in one form or another,” Sophie Binet, the CGT union chief said on Thursday.
The leader of the moderate CFDT, Laurent Berger, warned that “there will be repercussions” if the Constitutional Council gives the French government a green light.
Polls have consistently shown that the majority of French citizens are opposed to working two more years before being able to reap pension benefits.