June 1, 2023

Pensions: the sword of Damocles of the shared initiative referendum

Opponents of pension reform have not exhausted all their cartridges. Some 250 parliamentarians paved the way on Monday for a consultation of citizens on the retirement age using a complex and still little used procedure.

This recourse to the referendum of shared initiative (RIP) via the filing of a dedicated bill was made official on the very day when the government cleared the last obstacle to the adoption of the bill in the Assembly via the recourse in Article 49.3 of the Constitution.

No sooner had the motions of censure on the text been rejected than left-wing deputies brandished RIP signs. This approach could contribute to fueling the protest – already powerful – against the postponement of the legal age from 62 to 64 and complicate the implementation of the reform planned for September.

“Burning demand for a referendum”

The reform “emphasizes social inequalities and particularly harms the most vulnerable populations”, argues the bill published on Monday and already transferred to the Constitutional Council. “It is therefore up to the French people, by means of a referendum, to be able to vote for or against limiting the legal retirement age to 62 years. »

“It is an ardent request made to the president to launch a referendum”, justifies the socialist senator, Patrick Kanner, who is one of the signatories of the proposal. Contrary to what the name of the procedure might suggest, “the hypothesis of a referendum is as such extremely remote, very hypothetical”, tempers the professor of public law, Anne Levade.

“No interference” with the application of the reform

Concretely, opponents of the reform have tabled a bill providing that the retirement age “cannot be set beyond 62 years”. If around 4.8 million French people (10% of the electorate) support this proposal after a nine-month consultation, parliamentarians will have to seize it. If Parliament does not take up the bill within six months, the Head of State submits it to a referendum.

“Legally, there is no interference” with the pension reform bill, explains Anne Levade. In other words, on paper, the reform once adopted can be applied as agreed, even if the consultation of citizens carried out in parallel until the beginning of next year could be difficult to assume politically and fuel social discontent.

Conditions “met” for a green light from the Elders

Before getting there, however, the Constitutional Council will have to give the green light to the launch of the collection of citizens’ signatures. He has a month to do it. “The conditions of admissibility of the RIP are met, the first step can be taken without great difficulty”, estimates Dominique Rousseau, professor of law.

The defenders of the RIP can boast of having already scored points by bringing together, as necessary, more than 185 signatures of deputies and senators. They also quickly drew their text to engage in the breach before the enactment of the law. Knowing that such an initiative “cannot have as its object the repeal of a legislative provision promulgated for less than a year”, according to the Constitution.

The Constitutional Council will also have to check that the proposal relates to the economic or social policy of the nation, which does not seem to be in doubt among lawyers. “The government will probably seek to put forward arguments of unconstitutionality, but I think that their scope is weak,” said constitutional expert Jean-Philippe Derosier.

The precedent of the privatization of ADP

Until then, only the bill aimed at launching a referendum on the privatization of Aéroports de Paris obtained the green light from the Constitutionnel in 2019. It failed to collect enough signatures, but the government gave up its project on Covid crisis background. More recently, the Socialists have defended a RIP on the taxation of superprofits but this was rejected by the Elders.

“It was not originally planned like that, but it has become a lever for the opposition to seek national support against a reform or a provision wanted by the government”, summarizes Jean-Philippe Derosier.

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