By Elizabeth Pineau and Dominique Vidalon PARIS (Reuters) -Garbage piled up in Paris, liquefied natural gas operations were suspended and rail services cancelled on Wednesday, with trade unions preparing a show of force as President Emmanuel Macron’s pension overhaul neared its finale in parliament. A broad alliance of unions has called an eighth day of […]
French unions urge show of force as Macron’s pension reform nears finale
By Elizabeth Pineau and Dominique Vidalon
PARIS (Reuters) -Garbage piled up in Paris, liquefied natural gas operations were suspended and rail services cancelled on Wednesday, with trade unions preparing a show of force as President Emmanuel Macron’s pension overhaul neared its finale in parliament.
A broad alliance of unions has called an eighth day of street protests across France since mid-January to contest Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.
The pension bill passes to a joint parliamentary committee where lawmakers from the lower and upper chambers are seeking a compromise text before a final vote in both the Senate and National Assembly on Thursday.
Macron’s camp faced a last-gasp scramble to secure enough votes in the assembly, where it lacks its own absolute majority and will rely on the conservative Les Republicains (LR) party for support, though its ranks are divided on the issue.
“In the National Assembly, there will not be an easy vote, nor will there be panic,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told Europe 1 radio station.
Lawmakers on all sides told Reuters of senior ministers or their teams calling LR and centrist lawmakers to try and convince them to back the reform – sometimes offering favours in return.
“We’ve all received calls over the past days,” said Christophe Naegelen, of the centrist group Liot, where about 15 out of 20 will vote against the reform. Several LR lawmakers said the same.
Sylvain Maillard, an MP in Macron’s camp said it was “normal” to have conversations between the government and lawmakers.
“It’s not necessarily the minister who called first. There may be an MP who’s hesitating (about his vote), who speaks to a minister, who has some issues locally. A minister can help,” he told Reuters. Asked if that was unethical, Maillard said: “The MP does his job, he pushes files for his constituency, he was also elected for that.”
Macron and his government say changes to the pension system, one of the most generous among industrialised nations, are necessary to keep the pension budget in the black. At stake for the president are not just financial gains, however, but also his reformist credentials.
Ruling party officials acknowledged the numbers were tight.
If too tight for comfort, the government may resort to a procedure known as 49:3, which would allow it to push the text through parliament without a vote. That would risk anger on the streets but avoid a possible vote of no confidence in parliament were the vote to fail.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told the assembly on Tuesday that she wanted a vote to take place, while the unions held their ground.
“This reform is unfair, brutal, and overwhelmingly rejected by public opinion,” Laurent Berger, head of the reform-minded CFDT union told BFM TV.
More than 6,000 tonnes of rubbish have built up in Paris as municipal waste collectors extended their walkout into a second week, and ministers urged Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo to use her powers to oblige some of the striking garbage collectors to get back to work.
France’s energy sector has also been hit hard.
Blockages at four liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals have been extended, Engie subsidiary Elengy and trade sources said.
Several LNG ships heading to France have changed course to other terminals in Britain, the Netherlands and Spain, since the strike action started and closure of the terminals for another week would significantly impact France’s ability to export gas to neighbouring countries.
French power supply was reduced by the strike, and refineries were also affected.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Forrest Crellin and Benjamin Mallet; Writing by Richard Lough and Ingrid Melander; Editing by Christina Fincher)
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