Macron’s government survives tense no-confidence vote, but crisis not yet over

Tata

Mar 21, 2023

French President Emmanuel Macron has survived a tense no-confidence vote in parliament with a narrow margin. In a bid to push through the controversial increase in retirement age, Macron bypassed the lower house of parliament, which would have blocked the bill from becoming law. In return, the National assembly proposed a no-confidence vote on Macron’s government.

The vote that took place on Monday saw 278 MPs vote against the Macron government, while 287 MPs voted against the no-confidence motion. That means only 9 MPs saved the government from dissolution. Had the no-confidence vote gone through, the retirement age increase would be buried and the government dissolved. 

The second no-confidence motion brought by the far-right National Rally could only gather 94 votes in the chamber. 

Although the Parliament could not succeed in removing the government, the opposition seem to be satisfied with the outcome, which was better than expected. Some MPs are already calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. 

“Only nine votes are missing … to bring both the government down and its reform down,” Mathilde Panot, a far-left lawmaker, said. “The government is already dead in the eyes of the French, it doesn’t have any legitimacy any more.”

Unlike the last government, Macron’s party no longer enjoy an absolute majority in parliament. If all the opposition MPs had backed the no-confidence motion, that would have been enough to topple the government. However, the motion failed because several MPs from the conservative Les Republicans refused to support it.

Why the no-confidence vote

In a bid to ensure the smooth running of the country’s pension, president Macron proposed an increase of the retirement age by two years, from 62 to 64. The French Senate voted to accept the controversial reform, but that would not be the case in the lower house of parliament. Should the bill reach there, there is almost no possibility of it becoming law because Macron would not get as many votes needed to push it through. Hence, the president and prime minister invoked Article 49:3 of the French Constitution, attempting to pass the law without a vote. 

Under Article 49:3, the Prime Minister can present a bill to the National Assembly and declare that the adoption of this bill is a matter of confidence. This means that the National Assembly must either adopt the bill or vote no confidence in the government. This provision is also known as “engagement de responsabilité” or “commitment of responsibility.”

If the National Assembly fails to pass a vote of no confidence, the bill is deemed adopted. However, if the National Assembly adopts a vote of no confidence, the government must resign. Monday’s vote means the government survived the onslaught but has put immense pressure on Macron and Elisabeth Borne because the next no-confidence motion might not be easy for them. There are already talks that Macron is planning a reshuffle of government. 

What supporters of Macron said in parliament

It was an intense debate on Monday in Parliament as MPs speak for or against the retirement age increase and the no-confidence motion against the Macron government. Aurore Bergé, the leader of Macron’s Renaissance parliamentary group, said the opposition was not working for the common good of the people. 

“When people speak of a grand coalition, it should be so that people work together for the good of the country. It’s the opposite that you are offering us … you want to bring our country to a halt, in our institutions and … in the street,” she said.

Other supporters of Macron in parliament argued that the government was only trying to save the country’s pension system from collapsing, hence it should be supported to do so. Since the proposed reform, Macron has refused to speak about it and it seems he is not going to do so until the bill becomes law. However, the opposition’s anger seems to be more than the bill itself. They are even angrier because the President had attempted to bypass them in a decision that would change the lives of millions of people.

What the opposition said

Those not on the side of Macron and his party argued that the president had undermined the country’s democracy by not submitting the reform to a vote. Charles de Courson, a centrist MP, said the government lacked courage in parliamentary debates, and Macron and his men were avoiding that.

“You could have submitted [your reform] to a vote, and you probably would have lost it, but that’s the game when you are in a democracy,” Charles Courson told MPs during the no-confidence debate.

“How can we accept such contempt for parliament? How can we accept such conditions to examine a text which will have lasting effects on the lives of millions of our fellow citizens?” he exclaimed.

Like Charles de Courson, many MPs argued that Macron had to pay dearly for bypassing parliament and undermining the country’s democracy. But in the end, the government survived and their votes were not enough to stop the controversial bill from becoming law.

What trade unions are saying

Unlike MPs, trade unions cannot debate in parliament. The only languages they can speak are protests and industrial actions. Hence, they have been speaking that language since Macron’s controversial reform. Despite Monday’s vote, they believe their voices could still be heard and the bill would be blocked at the final minute. 

Laurent Berger, CFDT trade union leader, said Macron would have to withdraw the bill if he does not want a disaster in the country. 

[Our protests] have been very controlled since the beginning, but the temptation of violence, of radicalisation … is there,” he said. 

Kamel Brahmi, leader of the leftist CGT union, said: “The goal is to support the workers on strike in Paris … to put pressure on this government that wants to pass this unjust, brutal and useless and ineffective law.”

Already, the rats in Paris are feasting after refuse collectors joined the strike over a week ago. Fuel stations are partially locked and there seem to be unions ready to join the industrial actions. 

Following Monday’s vote, protesters stormed the streets of Paris and other parts of the country again and promised to do so until the Government listens. Unfortunately, Macron is not ready to listen to anyone until his mission is accomplished. 

What next?

The bill is one step away from becoming law. This week, the Constitutional Court would review it to see if it is in line with the country’s constitution. Once it is approved at that stage, there is almost nothing anyone could do to stop the process. However, opposition leader Marine Le Pen and several others said they would ask the constitutional council to halt its passage.

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