FILE – French President Emmanuel Macron listens to children in a class during a human papillomavirus (HPV) prevention session during a visit to Jean Lartaut middle school in Jarnac, southwestern France, on Tuesday, February 28, 2023. (Stephane Mahe/ Pool via AP, file)

PARIS (AP) — The fight in France over a bill that would raise the retirement age was nearing its peak on Thursday, either with a parliamentary vote or a special presidential initiative to force its passage.

The Senate approved the law on Thursday morning by 193 votes in favor and 114 against, an expected result because the conservative majority in the upper house supports raising the retirement age. The text now passes to the lower house, the National Assembly, where the prospect is more uncertain.

President Emmanuel Macron had a morning meeting with some leaders of his centrist alliance to address the complex political situation in the National Assembly. He was to join them at noon.

Macron’s alliance lost its majority in parliamentary elections last year, so the government needed Conservative votes to pass the measure. Left and far-right lawmakers were strongly opposed to the plan, and conservatives were split, making the outcome unpredictable.

The French leader wants to raise the retirement age so that workers contribute more to the pension system, which the government says is on the verge of running into a deficit. If he fails to win a parliamentary majority vote, he has the constitutional power to unilaterally impose unpopular changes.

Macron has defended pension changes as essential to his vision of a more competitive French economy. The unions maintained their combative stance on Wednesday and called on lawmakers to vote against it, decrying the government’s legal shortcuts to pass the law as a “denial of democracy”.

Nearly 500,000 people demonstrated across the country on Wednesday. Students were to march on the lower house of parliament, while garbage collectors continued a strike that has piled up rubbish in the French capital.

Macron “wants” the reform to be approved in the National Assembly, his office said after a strategic session on Wednesday evening with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and the ministers in charge of the proposal at the Elysee Palace. But no firm decision has been made and the government was expected to continue talks on Thursday morning.

Employment Minister Olivier Dussopt said after the Senate vote that the government still had no guarantee that the text approved by a reconciliation commission on Wednesday could win a majority of votes in the lower house.

“We are determined to build that majority,” he said. “That’s our job, our commitment for the next few hours.”

Although approval in the National Assembly would give the plan more legitimacy, Macron could avoid the risk of rejection and use his special constitutional power to pass a law without a parliamentary vote.

The economic challenges have sparked widespread discontent in Western Europe. In Britain, young medical teachers and public transport workers went on strike on Wednesday to demand pay rises to keep pace with rising prices. And the leftist Spanish government has reached an agreement with the unions to announce a “historic” agreement to save the pension system by increasing social security contributions for those who earn the most.

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