Bid for referendum on France's controversial pension reforms rejected

The ruling was made by France's highest constitutional authority on Wednesday

The Conseil constitutionnel is France’s highest constitutional court and can rule on decisions of policy and law
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France’s highest constitutional authority, le Conseil constitutionnel, has rejected a request to hold a referendum on the government’s controversial pension reforms.

The ruling was published at 19:00 on Wednesday (May 3).

It is the second such request to hold a vote. The council rejected an earlier demand in April.

The government’s pension reforms, which include raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, were last month largely approved by the constitutional authority.

But protests have continued, with a record number of people turning out for France’s traditional May 1 marches on Monday.

Read more: France's pension reforms largely approved as referendum rejected

What is a référendum d'initiative partagée (RIP)?

A référendum d'initiative partagée (RIP) was introduced by constitutional reform in 2008. It allows for a public consultation on a proposed law.

To be considered, the bill must refer to “the organisation of public power” and “reforms on national economic, social, and environmental policies and relevant public services”.

It may also concern “the ratification of a treaty, which, without being against the Constitution, would have an impact on the functioning of institutions”.

Why was there a second request for a referendum?

The first request for a referendum was dismissed by the council on April 14 because the government’s reform bill did not constitute “a change in the state of law”.

This is because the request asked the council to “affirm that the legal age of retirement cannot be higher than 62”, at a time when the legal age was still 62 (and this is still the case, as the government’s reform has not yet entered into force).

The council found that it could not rule on a decision that would effectively maintain the status quo, rather than change the existing law.

After this initial failure, MPs submitted a second request, with an article added and slightly different wording, in an attempt to highlight an “element of reform” on which the council could decide.

How does the decision-making work?

The main factor is that the decision cannot partially censure or accept a proposal. The council either decides unanimously or throws out the entire request.

For example, in August 2021, an entire RIP request about universal access to public hospitals was thrown out because of a single part that was judged unconstitutional, without the council even considering the other elements.

This means that requests must be worded carefully from the start.

Ahead of the second decision today, Thibaud Mulier, a public law expert at the University of Nanterre, said that he was sceptical about it going differently from the first.

He told FranceInfo: “The first legal proposition did not constitute a reform in the sense of article 11 of the Constitution. So if we follow the logic of the Conseil constitutionnel, because the new formulation of the article is almost identical to the [old one], we’ll run into the same problem.”

He added: “[We can] consider that, because the first article is unconstitutional, the rest of the proposition will be too.”

Mathilde Panot, an MP from the left-wing La France Insoumise party, is also sceptical, telling a press conference: “I don’t have a lot of hope.”

Similarly, the head of the CGT (la Confédération générale du travail) union, Sophie Binet, said that the “RIP process has been made not to work.”

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