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French Parliament debates highly controversial retirement reforms

PARIS, Feb 17 (KUNA) -- France's National Assembly on Monday began what is expected to be a hugely controversial debate on a draft law to reform the nation's complicated retirement system, amid ongoing protests against the draft.
Parliamentary TV channel "LCP" announced the opening of the debate on retirement reforms, a move by the government to offset financial problems with the system in the coming decades.
The law has led to widespread protests throughout France and several nationwide demonstrations since December 5. But the government of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, backed by reformist President Emmanuel Macron, has stood his ground and made a minimum of concessions before the draft text arrived before Parliament.
Essentially, Philippe argues that to maintain financial equilibrium in the near term, people are going to have to work longer and the idea of retiring on a full pension at 62 years is no longer viable.
Secondly, the 42 "special pension schemes" that allow people to retire much earlier than 62 will have to be reviewed and a number of them phased out.
One example of this is train drivers, who in principle may retire at 52 because of the hard nature of their work.
But this provision was adopted in 1948 at the time of steam engines and coal fired furnaces, which required a lot of physical work and were definitely tough working conditions.
Today, however, trains are modern and driven more by technology so there is no justification for early retirement for drivers.
It is no surprise that the most militant strikers since December and the most vociferous anti-reform protesters are train drivers. But several other sectors have similar gripes against the reforms.
The Parliamentary debate is likely to be extremely long and bitter, with even some Macron supporters objecting to the text.
Parliamentary sources said that around 41,000 amendments to the new draft law had been submitted, so many that the legal commission reviewing the law gave up and said it could not cope with the volume of amendments.
Macron and Philippe have a clear majority in Parliament and the text should be voted through.
If not, Philippe can put it to a vote of "no confidence" and place his government at risk. But this would be viewed as a sign of weakness for Macron, who does not want to appear as forcing reforms on the country, not least on his own party supporters in Parliament.
Some observers say that a vote on retirement reform might not take place before the summer, given the opposition to the text and the number of amendments. (end) jk.gb