French President Emmanuel Macron signed his controversial pension reform into law in the early hours of Saturday morning, prompting angry reactions from union leaders and opposition MPs. They are calling for a 'tidal wave' of protests and strikes on 1 May.
The contested pension reform became law after the text was published in France's Official Journal before dawn on Saturday.
This comes after the nine-member Constitutional Council ruled in favour of key provisions of the reform late Friday, saying the legislation was in accordance with French law.
The alterations include raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and extending the years of work required for a full pension.
Six minor proposals were rejected, including forcing large companies to publish how many over-55s they employ, and the creation of a special contract for older workers.
The court also rejected a bid from opposition lawmakers to force a referendum on an alternative pension law that would have kept the retirement age at 62.
Oil on the fire
Union leaders expressed their "disbelief" and reaffirmed their "determination" to maintain pressure with protests. They described the hurried promulgation of the law as "provocation", adding that the president had 15 days to validate it, but chose to do it immediately.
"It's not a surprise, but wanting to go quickly, it comes across as provocation", leader for the Force Ouvrière union Frédéric Souillot told France 2 television.
"The government was already playing with fire, now it's taking pleasure in throwing oil on the fire. Nothing good will come out of all this. It's not over, the fight for pensions and justice social continues!”, Unsa union leader Laurent Escure wrote on Twitter.
Earlier on Friday, unions issued a joint statement urging Macron not to sign the legislation into law, saying the issue was "not finished".
The newly appointed general secretary of the CGT union, Sophie Binet, called for a "popular and historic tidal wave" of people on the streets to oppose the reforms on 1st May.
Meanwhile, unions rejected an offer by Macron for talks on Tuesday, saying they would only meet after 1st May.
"The CFDT confirms, like all the trade unions, that we will not go to the Élysée on Tuesday. There is a promulgation overnight and we officially received the invitation at 11 p.m. yesterday," CFDT Yvan Ricordeau told RMC television, adding that the working meeting proposed by the President on Friday was "without method, without object, without content". "It's just for show," he said.
Bikes, e-scooters and garbage were set on fire in the centre of Paris overnight after the verdict was announced while protests rallying hundreds erupted in other cities, including Marseille and Toulouse.
In the western city of Rennes, protesters set fire to the entrance of a police station and a conference centre. Paris police said 112 people had been arrested.
Socialist leader Olivier Faure said that Macron's move showed "disdain" towards the protest movement while hard-left MP Francois Ruffin called it a "democratic hold-up".
"A law enacted in the middle of the night, like thieves," tweeted French Communist Party chief Fabien Roussel. "Everyone on the street May 1."
But the constitutional court's decision could prove a shallow victory for Macron, as analysts say it has come at a major personal cost for the 45-year-old.
The president's approval ratings are near their lowest levels ever, and many voters have been outraged by his decision to ram the pensions law through parliament without a vote, using a legal but controversial mechanism denounced by opponents as anti-democratic.
Polls consistently show that two out of three French people are against working a further two years.
Macron has called the change "necessary" to avoid annual pension deficits forecast to hit €13.5 billion ($14.8 billion) by 2030, according to government figures.
The president, who has made only the most infrequent public comments on the crisis, is expected to address the French early next week, a presidential source told French news agency AFP.