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France: Government narrowly survives no-confidence votes

March 20, 2023

Two parliamentary groups had filed no-confidence motions against the government of President Emmanuel Macron after his prime minister forced through controversial pension reforms without a vote.

A headshot of French President Emmanuel Macron with bright lights in the background
Emmanuel Macron's controversial pension reforms have been the subject of numerous protestsImage: Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

A controversial pensions reforms bill forced through the French parliament without a vote  is due to pass, after the government narrowly survived two no-confidence votes on Monday.

The first motion, tabled by a centrist party and others, was slightly short of the 287 it needed to pass, gathering 278 votes. 

A second motion of no confidence, put forth by the far-right National Rally (RN), fell through on Monday as lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected it.

The pension reforms, spearheaded by President Emmanuel Macron, would increase the retirement age from 62 to 64. This has led to ongoing protests in Paris and other cities since Thursday.

What happened in parliament?

Centrist lawmaker Charles de Courson opened the debate, which dragged on into Monday afternoon.

"You failed to convince, so you chose the easy way out," de Courson, whose coalition supports the no-confidence vote, told the government. "You clearly distorted the spirit of the constitution."

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne defended her controversial move during the debate, saying it was a compromise. She described her use of the article to bypass a vote on the reforms as "profoundly democratic" under the French constitution.

"We never went so far in building a compromise as we did with this reform," Borne was quoted as saying.

After the first no-confidence vote, left-wing MPs chanted "resign! resign!" at Borne, carrying signs denouncing the pensions reform.

How do the no-confidence votes work?

One of the no-confidence motions was filed by the small, centrist Liot bloc and supported by the left-wing Nupes coalition. The other was filed by the far-right National Rally of Marine Le Pen.

If a no-confidence vote was successful, the pension reform bill would have been rejected and Macron would also have had to appoint a new cabinet.

Macron's tenuous political alliance has the largest number of MPs in the National Assembly but it does not control an absolute majority.

The conservative Republicans vowed not to support either of the no-confidence motions, which helped the government survive them.

"Let's get clarity. The vote means clarity," Aurore Berge, chief of the pro-government MPs, told broadcaster Franceinfo Sunday.

"It's about one sole question: is the pension reform indispensable or unbearable for the French public?"

Protests set to continue

The election reforms triggered numerous protests and strikes in the months leading up to last Thursday.

Protests erupted in major cities again after Borne used Article 49/3 of the French constitution to force the bill through parliament without a vote, a strategy the Macron government has repeatedly had to turn to since losing an absolute majority in parliament last year.

Garbage collectors, oil refinery staff and other workers have continued to go on strike. A nationwide day of action has been planned for the coming Thursday.

Protesters surrounding a bonfire in Paris
Protests errupted again over the weekendImage: Gonzalo Fuentes/REUTERS

"For as long as the 64-year reform is on the table, we have to keep it up," far-left former presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon told broadcaster RTL on Sunday.

However, he urged protesters to remain non-violent.

"Don't make our struggle invisible with practices that would be turned against us," Melenchon said. "Mr Macron... is counting on people going too far, so as to profit from a situation of fear."

zc/es (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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