French President Emmanuel Macron ordered a highly unpopular bill Thursday to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. Macron acted without the support of Parliament.
The country's lawmaking body is expected to react with proposals to withdraw parliamentary support of Macron's government. Police vehicles circled the National Assembly building in preparation for possible unrest.
The proposed retirement age and pension changes have led to major strikes and protests across the country since January. Macron argues that reform is needed to keep the pension system from falling into deficit.
The decision to use special constitutional powers to order the measure was made during a Cabinet meeting. It took place just a few minutes before Parliament was to vote on the proposal. Macron had no guarantee of a majority in France's lower house of parliament.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne tried to officially announce the decision at the National Assembly. Some members interfered by singing the French national song. The speaker had to briefly suspend the meeting to return order to the process.
Borne said the presidential order was a necessary measure. "We cannot take the risk to see 175 hours of parliamentary debate collapse ... We cannot gamble on the future of our pensions," she said.
Borne said her government is accountable to the parliament. Opposition members answered her with booing.
Lawmakers on the liberal and conservative sides quickly confirmed their next moves.
Marine Le Pen said her National Rally party would present a proposal to withdraw support. Communist Party lawmaker Fabien Roussel said a similar proposal is "ready" from his group.
"The mobilization will continue," Roussel said. "This reform must be suspended."
A withdrawal of support requires at least half the members of Parliament's lower house to vote in favor of the proposal. That means 287 votes. The last time the French government was forced to resign was in 1962.
If proposals to withdraw support fail, the pension bill would be considered enacted.
Earlier Thursday, the French Senate adopted the retirement age raise bill in a 193-114 vote.
Macron wants to raise the retirement age so workers put more money into the system.
He has pushed the pension changes as a central method for making the French economy more competitive. The reform would raise the lowest age for pension. It also would require 43 years of work to earn a full pension, along with other changes.
Almost 500,000 people protested against the bill around the country Wednesday.
Economic difficulties have led to widespread unrest across Western Europe. In Britain on Wednesday, teachers, doctors in training and public transport workers were striking for higher wages. And Spain's government joined with labor unions to announce a "historic" deal to save its pension system by raising social security costs for higher wage earners.
All three European nations are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In 2020, the OECD says, the average normal retirement age among member nations was 64.2 years for men and 63.4 years for women.
I'm Caty Weaver.