by editor | 23rd October 2010 6:46 am
Controversial legislation that has provoked a wave of strikes narrowly makes it through upper house
Kim Willsher in Paris
The French parliament has narrowly given its approval to the pension reforms which have caused a wave of strikes, demonstrations and protests across France, leading to traffic chaos and petrol shortages.
The senate voted 177 to 153 to approve measures including a rise in the official retirement age from 60 to 62. The lower house, the national assembly, had earlier given its assent.
The vote came after the right-of-centre government of President Nicolas Sarkozy used emergency clauses in the constitution to push through the reforms. The reforms had stalled in the senate after opposition members tabled hundreds of amendments leading to three weeks of debate.
Following tonight’s vote, one final vote will be taken by both houses next week, after which the reform becomes law. “This is a serious moment, because it is clear, responsible and courageous,” labour minister Eric Woerth said as he ended the debate in the senate. He added: “It is not by looking to the past that we will preserve our social model.”
Jean-Pierre Bel, the opposition spokesman in the senate, warned the government: “You haven’t finished with pensions. You have ignored what the French people have expressed, you have listened to none of our proposals. Your reform is unfair.”
Sarkozy’s government used a special constitutional clause to speed up the vote in the upper house after senators spent more than three weeks debating various clauses and amendments, many of them advanced by members of the Socialist party opposition and aimed at derailing the reforms.
Legislators – mostly opposition Socialists – submitted 1,237 amendments, but Sarkozy’s conservative UMP party and its allies have a majority and dismissed nearly all of them.
Afterwards, the Socialist party leader Martine Aubry criticised the “heavy measures” used by Sarkozy.
Pierre Laurent, the leader of the Communist party, said: “This ultimate provocation will not stop the will of the people, and cannot but increase the protests.”
Since September, the proposed reforms have provoked riots and demonstrations which have affected France’s transport system, and seen schools, colleges, ports and airports blockaded, and led to the pumps running dry at petrol stations.
And today the government sent in riot police to clear the blockades at some of France’s 12 oil refineries.
Student unions have called for a further day of action next Tuesday, urging students to organise sit-ins at their schools and colleges. They say the protests are aimed at showing they can mobilise supporters during the half-term holidays, which begin this weekend.
Sarkozy has said that overhauling the pension system is vital to ensuring that future generations receive any pensions at all. It is a choice many European governments are facing as populations live longer and government debts soar.
But French unions say that retirement at 60 is a hard-earned right, and claim the working class will be unfairly punished by the reforms. They also fear that pensions is the first step in dismantling an entire network of benefits that make France an enviable place to work and live.
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