Heightened security is in place in the French capital Paris as the country braces for a crucial ruling on the constitutionality of divisive changes to France’s pension system.
The Constitutional Council in Paris, France’s equivalent of the US supreme court, has been barricaded ahead of the decision, which could see France’s retirement age raised from 62 to 64.
An expert in French constitutional law told CNN the police operation to protect the court is unprecedented. “As far back as I can remember, I’ve never seen images like this before,” Laureline Fontaine said.
Sweeping protests have paralyzed major services across the country this year over French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal, a move that has also riled opposition lawmakers and unions. Uncollected garbage has mounted in the streets of Paris.
There are several possible outcomes to Friday’s ruling. If the law is green-lit, it will go into effect in September. The first retirees will have to wait an additional three months for their state pensions. With regular, incremental increases, by 2030 the retirement age will have reached 64.
There could also be a partial strike down of the law. If only part of it is deemed unconstitutional, the court can opt to pass the remainder of the legislation into law. This would likely still be seen as a win for Macron, who would then be able to offer dialogue to trade unions.
If the court finds that the law in unconstitutional, it cannot be enacted. This is unlikely and would be a political earthquake for Macron, whose government pushed through the legislation without a direct vote by using special constitutional powers.
The council will also decide Friday whether to allow a referendum on the law, called for by the opposition.
Macron has argued that the reforms are essential to rein in public finances, and has been standing firm, this week saying “the country must continue to move forward.”
Thursday marked the 12th nationwide day of protests against the proposals. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets but the interior ministry’s turnout figure – 380,000 – is nearly 200,000 less than the previous round of protests.
Some protesters in Paris forced their way into the headquarters of luxury giant LVMH, with one union leader telling CNN, “if Macron wants to find money to finance the pension system, he should come here to find it.”
The protests have for the most part been peaceful but they have also seen violent clashes.
The higher pension age will still keep France below the norm in Europe and in many other developed economies, where the age at which full pension benefits apply is 65 and is increasingly moving towards 67.
In the United States and the United Kingdom, the retirement age is between 66 and 67, depending on the year you were born. Current legislation envisages a further rise from 67 to 68 in Britain between 2044 and 2046 (although the timing of this increase is being reviewed and could change).
State pensions in France are also more generous than elsewhere. At nearly 14% of GDP in 2018, the country’s spending on state pensions is larger than in most other countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Saskya Vandoorne reported from Paris, Sophie Tanno wrote in London. CNN’s Xiaofei Xu and Oliver Briscoe contributed reporting.