French government faces confidence votes over decision to push through pension bill

The French government will face two confidence votes on Monday in response to President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to bypass the legislature to push through his unpopular pension reform, which will raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

If the no-confidence votes win a majority of seats, the pension bill would be nullified and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne would have to resign, forcing President Macron to appoint a new government or call for early elections.

Transport strikes continue today, and a ninth strike day has been proposed by unions for Thursday 23rd.

This is the biggest challenge faced by President Macron’s government since the gilets jaunes protests which began in 2018.

What is article 49.3?

On Thursday, just before the scheduled vote on the government’s pension reform bill in France’s lower house of parliament, Macron decided to invoke article 49.3, a special power enshrined in the constitution that allows the government to pass a bill without a vote in the National Assembly.

In response, lawmakers can file a no-confidence motion within 24 hours, which, if approved by more than half of the deputies, means that the bill is thrown out and the government must resign.

Given the lack of public and political support for the bill, as demonstrated in the weeks of protests and strikes which have seen rubbish pile high in Paris, the French government invoked the article as they were not guaranteed to win a majority in the National Assembly.

The special power has previously been used ten times by current Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to pass budget bills.

Public response

Opposition politicians, citizens and unions were furious about Macron’s decision to push through the bill, with thousands gathering in Paris’ Place de la Concorde in the days following the decision, to protest.

On Thursday night, demonstrators clashed with police, after some set fires in the streets of Paris. In France’s other large cities; Rennes, Nantes, Lyon and Marseille, there have been similar scenes, with shop and bank windows being smashed.

Opinion polls show that two-thirds of French people oppose the pension changes and support the protests, which have seen millions of people take to the streets.

More protests?

Transport will be impacted again today, as train unions go on strike again in response to proposed pension reforms.

On Thursday, a collective of unions called for fresh strikes and protests to take place across the country on 23 March, a call backed by the CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, Unsa, Solidaires, FSU, l’Unef, la Fage, la Voix lycéenne, FIDL and MNL.


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