French President Emmanuel Macron shunned parliament and opted to push through a highly unpopular bill that would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 by triggering a special constitutional power on Thursday.
The risky move is expected to trigger a quick no-confidence motion in Macron’s government.
The decision was made just a few minutes before the vote was scheduled, because the government had no guarantee that the bill would command a majority at the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.
The bill is the flagship legislation of Macron’s second term. The unpopular plan has prompted major strikes and protests across the country since January.
As lawmakers gathered in the National Assembly Thursday to vote on the bill, the leftist members of the parliament broke into the Marseillaise, the French national anthem, preventing Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to speak and prompting the speaker to suspend the session.
The atmosphere was tense outside of the parliament as heavily armed guards and riot police ringed the picturesque neighborhoods around the National Assembly.
Earlier Thursday, the Senate adopted the bill in a 193-114 vote, a tally that was largely expected since the conservative majority of the upper house of parliament favors raising the retirement age.
Nearly 500,000 people protested against the bill around the country Wednesday. Students planned to march to seat of the National Assembly on Thursday as garbage workers kept up a strike that has caused trash to pile up around the French capital.
Macron’s alliance lost its parliamentary majority last year, forcing the government to count on conservative lawmakers to pass the bill. Leftists and far-right lawmakers are strongly opposed and conservatives are divided, which made the outcome unpredictable.
The French leader wants to raise the retirement age so workers put more money into the system, which the government says is on course to run a deficit.
Macron has promoted the pension changes as central to his vision for making the French economy more competitive, but economic challenges have prompted widespread unrest across Western Europe.
In Britain on Wednesday, teachers, junior doctors and public transport staff were striking for higher wages to match rising prices. And Spain’s leftist government joined with labor unions to announce a “historic” deal to save its pension system by raising social security costs for higher wage earners.