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Saturday June 15, 2024

Pension fight: French govt survives no-confidence vote

A new round of strikes and protests have been called on Thursday and are expected to again bring public transport to a standstill in several areas

By AFP
March 21, 2023
Members of National Assembly parliamentary group La France Insoumise (LFI) and left-wing coalition NUPES (New People´s Ecologic and Social Union) hold signs reading 64 is a no, See you in the street next to France´s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne (1R) and French Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt (2R) after the vote of one motion of no confidence at the French National Assembly, on March 20.—AFP
Members of National Assembly parliamentary group La France Insoumise (LFI) and left-wing coalition NUPES (New People´s Ecologic and Social Union) hold signs reading "64 is a no", "See you in the street" next to France´s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne (1R) and French Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt (2R) after the vote of one motion of no confidence at the French National Assembly, on March 20.—AFP 

PARIS: The French government under President Emmanuel Macron on Monday survived two no-confidence motions in parliament, but still faces intense pressure over its handling of a controversial pensions reform.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne incensed the opposition last week by announcing the government would impose a controversial pension reform without a vote in parliament, sparking accusations of anti-democratic behaviour.

Its use of an article in the constitution allowing such a move also gave the opposition the right to call motions of no confidence in the government and two such demands were filed.

The 577-seat National Assembly lower rejected a motion brought by the centrist LIOT coalition — also supported by the left — by a margin of just nine votes, much narrower than expected.

It then overwhelmingly rejected a motion brought by the far-right National Rally (RN) with just 94 votes in favour.

The rejection of the motions means that the reform to raise the pensions age from 62 to 64 has now been adopted by the legislature. It still needs to be signed into law by Macron and may also face legal challenges.

It is far from representing the end of the biggest domestic crisis of the second mandate in the office of Macron, who has yet to make any public comment on the controversy.

"We never went so far in building a compromise as we did with this reform," Borne told parliament ahead of the vote, saying her use of the article to bypass a vote was "profoundly democratic" under France’s constitution set up by postwar leader Charles de Gaulle.

Trouble ahead

A new round of strikes and protests have been called on Thursday and are expected to again bring public transport to a standstill in several areas.

There has been a rolling strike by rubbish collectors in Paris, leading to unsightly and unhygienic piles of trash accumulating in the French capital.

The future of Borne, appointed as France’s second woman premier by Macron after his election victory over the far right for a second mandate, remains in doubt after she failed to secure a parliamentary majority for the reform.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear when Macron will finally make public comments on the events, amid reports he is considering an address to the nation.

Since Borne invoked article 49.3 of the constitution, there have also been daily protests in Paris and other cities that have on occasion turned violent.

A total of 169 people were arrested nationwide on Saturday during spontaneous protests, including one that assembled 4,000 in the capital.

Government insiders and observers have raised fears that France is again heading for another bout of violent anti-government protests, only a few years after the "Yellow Vest" movement shook the country from 2018-2019.

In order to pass, the main multi-party no-confidence motion needed support from around half the 61 MPs of the traditional right-wing party The Republicans.

Even after its leadership insisted they should reject the motions, 19 renegade Republican MPs voted in favour.

"I think it’s the only way out. We need to move on to something else," said one of the Republicans who voted for the ousting of the government, Aurelien Pradie.

Ejecting PM ‘least risky’

A survey on Sunday showed the head of state’s personal rating at its lowest level since the height of the "Yellow Vest" crisis in 2019, with only 28% of respondents having a positive view of him.

Macron has argued that pension changes are needed to avoid crippling deficits in the coming decades linked to France’s ageing population.

"Those among us who are able will gradually need to work more to finance our social model, which is one of the most generous in the world," Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Sunday.

Opponents of the reform say it places an unfair burden on low earners, women and people doing physically wearing jobs. Opinion polls have consistently shown that two-thirds of French people oppose the changes.

As for Macron’s options now, replacing Borne would be "the least risky and the most likely to give him new momentum," Bruno Cautres of the Centre for Political Research told AFP.

Calling new elections is seen as unlikely.

"When you’re in this much of a cycle of unpopularity and rejection over a major reform, it’s basically suicidal" to go to the polls, Brice Teinturier, head of the polling firm Ipsos, told AFP.

A Harris Interactive survey of over 2,000 people this month suggested that the only winner from a new general election would be the far right, with all other major parties losing ground.