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22 Oct, 2010 22:25

French Senate passes new retirement age bill, protestors block streets

The French Senate has approved pension reform, raising the retirement age to 62. The decision to support president Sarkozy's proposal has been approved in a vote that went to the wire.

The voting comes amid ongoing protests that hit the country more than a week ago.

Earlier, French police broke the blockade of a refinery that is crucial for the capital's fuel supplies.

But now it's reported that demonstrators captured one of the largest waste recycling centers just outside Paris.

It was a very close decision by the French Senate. The vote was 177 to 153, a very small margin by which the controversial pension reform was approved.

This is certainly not the final leg of this reform’s journey, as it will have to be approved by a National Committee comprised of senators and lower house lawmakers set to meet on Monday, the 25th of October. However, the Senate’s decision is a big step, particularly because, for days, many demonstrators have been protesting this proposal, causing chaos and practically pushing France to a state of standstill.

Protestors blocked oil refineries, causing millions in losses to the French air industry and those businesses and private citizens relying on auto transportation.

This reform has already been set by the French government to be instrumental in helping the French economy off its knees as it suffers the aftershocks of the global financial crisis.

But those French protestors on the streets definitely do not see it that way, saying they do not believe they need to work until the age of 62.

The current French retirement age of 60 is one of the lowest in the world, with countries in Europe, such as Spain and Italy, already raising their retirement age to 62 or higher and with not as much opposition from its citizens.

However, the French people have their own way of dealing with the issue and this means taking to the streets – exactly what they have been doing over the last week.

Now all eyes are on French trade unions and the National Committee, but it looks like, despite all odds, the Committee will give it its final approval on Monday.

The French government is unlikely to give in to the pressure protestors putting on them and is likely to proceed with the reform, believes chief economist from Xerfi Financial Consultancy Alexander Law.

“I do not think that [the] government is going to cave in too much for two reasons. The first reason is that this is an essential reform. You can debate over whether it was represented correctly, but something had to be done,” he said. “You have got to also recognize the fact that there are going to be elections in 2012, general elections, presidential elections, and if Nicolas Sarkozy and of course Fillon government are seen to blink, to give in to demands from the streets, they are probably going to be losing some of their right-wing backing.”