Macron government survives no-confidence vote amid France’s anger over pensions
PARIS – The French National Assembly on Monday rejected a motion of no confidence in the government of President Emmanuel Macron, guaranteeing that a bitterly contested bill raising the retirement age to 64 from 62 becomes the law of the land. .
The first of two motions received 278 votes, nine short of the 287 needed to pass. The close result reflected widespread anger at the pensions overhaul, at Mr Macron for his apparent distance and the way the measure passed through parliament last week without a full vote on the bill itself. The Senate, the upper house of the French parliament, passed the pension bill this month.
A second no-confidence motion, tabled by the far-right National Rally, also failed on Monday, with just 94 lawmakers voting in favour.
The change, which Mr Macron has been pushing for since the start of his first term in 2017, has sparked two months of protests, intermittent strikes and occasional violence. It has divided France, with polls consistently showing that two-thirds of the population oppose the overhaul.
After Monday’s votes, there was no sign that the protests would subside or that the turbulent mood that sparked this crisis would fade any time soon. A period of deep uncertainty looms for France, and it is unclear how Mr Macron, who has remained largely silent, will be able to reassert his authority.
“Through strikes and demonstrations, we must force the withdrawal of the bill,” declared Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the far left, after the vote. After dark, sporadic violent clashes erupted between crowds of protesters and police in cities across the country, including Strasbourg, Rennes and Lyon. In Paris, small groups of protesters played cat and mouse with police, knocking over trash cans and setting fire to uncollected rubbish. Riot police responded with tear gas, pepper spray and batons.
The unions called for a day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday, and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the National Rally, said: “I believe it is difficult to govern in these circumstances.
But for now, the center has held and the fall of the government has been averted.
Before the vote, in a speech of fierce indignation, Élisabeth Borne, the Prime Minister, denounced these legislators who “deny the role of Parliament and affirm that the street is more legitimate than our institutions”. Clearly addressing both the far right and the far left, who have led opposition to the pension overhaul, she accused them of a “paroxysm” of unparliamentary and undemocratic behavior.
Who can undermine French democracy is now fiercely contested.
Last week, rather than submitting the overhaul to a vote in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, as he had said he wanted to do, Mr. Macron opted for a measure, known as 49.3 according to the relevant article of the Constitution. , which allows certain bills to pass without a vote. But that exposes the government to no-confidence motions, like those proposed on Monday.
This is the 11th time in less than a year that the French government has used 49.3. clause, sparking a growing sense among opponents of Mr Macron that the country’s democratic process was being circumvented, even though the measure is legal under the Constitution of the Fifth Republic, fashioned to create the all-powerful presidency sought by Charles de Gaulle.
Charles de Courson, an independent lawmaker from the group who tabled the first no-confidence motion, told Ms. Borne before the vote: “You failed to unite; you failed to convince. Passing the bill last week without a full parliamentary vote violated the “spirit of the Constitution”, he added.
In fact, Mr. Macron’s maneuver was entirely constitutional.
But some lawmakers have pledged to challenge the new law with France’s Constitutional Council, which reviews the legislation to make sure it’s constitutional. It’s unclear how the council would ultimately decide, or which parts of the law it might strike down, if at all. So far, the government has expressed confidence that the core of the law will hold.
In the end, there were just enough votes from centre-right Republicans – who last year had proposed raising the retirement age still further, to 65 – to save the law and Ms Borne’s government . With 61 seats, the party holds the balance in the National Assembly. But 19 of its legislators, more than expected, voted in favor of the motion of no confidence, rejecting the instructions of their party leader.
As they spoke to their constituents over the weekend, some Republicans began to defect. One lawmaker, Maxime Minot, said he had to vote in a way that “maintains the trust of the people I administer”. Another, Aurélien Pradié, spoke of the “contempt” shown by the government.
Such moves by moderate conservatives made the outcome uncomfortably close for Mr Macron. But he is categorical: for him, the contempt of the French people consists in perpetuating, at the cost of growing indebtedness, an untenable system.
He argued that retirement at age 62 could not be sustained as the lifespan grew longer. The calculations, at least in the longer term, simply didn’t add up, as the ratio of active workers to the retirees they supported through payroll taxes kept falling.
“If we don’t solve the problem of our pensioners, we can’t invest in everything else,” Macron said last year. “It is nothing less than a choice of the society we want.”
Now Mr Macron, who is over four years into his term and cannot run again in 2027, believes he has laid the groundwork for the huge investments in defence, green energy, schools and essential technologies to the future of France. But he faces a country more hostile to his reign than ever.
The protests look certain to mark Mr Macron’s second term, just as the yellow vest protest movement did its first. Behind both moves is resentment over the president’s perceived elitism, compounding anger at the specific measures that sparked the protests.
Mr Macron’s decision not to put the bill to a full vote in parliament has reinforced an impression of top-down rule. He had refused to meet union leaders in recent weeks, leaving them furious.
Ahead of the vote, Ms Le Pen, who ran twice against Mr Macron in a presidential election and lost, told broadcaster BFMTV: “For months the government has been playing with matches in a station -service”. After the vote, she told reporters the government had “dodged a bullet”.
The logic of the pension change, at a time when people are living longer and most European states have raised the retirement age to 65 or more, has not convinced many French people who are fiercely attached to the country’s work-life balance.
They could not see the urgency of the measure at a time of rising inflation and multiple economic pressures stemming from the war in Ukraine. The pension system is not on the verge of bankruptcy, even if its medium-term finances look catastrophic.
Many French people perceive the imposition of an extension of working life as an attack on the social solidarity at the heart of the French model and a maneuver by the rich to bring France closer to the unbridled capitalism they associate with the United States.
But another France, calmer, saw things differently. Aurore Bergé, the leader of Mr Macron’s Renaissance party, told the National Assembly that overhauling Mr Macron’s pensions “requires courage” because asking the French to work longer is “always harder” than making promises “with money we don’t have”. .”
Due to Mr. Macron’s virtually unlimited spending to help the French through the Covid-19 pandemic, France’s public debt which stood at 98.1% of gross domestic product in 2017 fell to 113.4% in third quarter of 2022.
The president became doubly convinced, under these circumstances, that retirement at age 62 was an unsustainable hangover from another era.
Mr Macron is expected to address the nation in the coming days in an attempt to promote reconciliation. He is a persuasive orator, but since he cannot represent himself, the succession maneuver has clearly begun, notably by Ms Le Pen, the leader of the nationalist and anti-immigrant party who is still biding her time.
“Mr. Macron cares very little about the democratic functioning of the country,” she said on Monday. But it is precisely because so many French people see her as a danger to democratic stability and the rule of law that Ms. Macron beat her twice.
Two election victories have shown that striking off Mr Macron tends to be a wild ride. The 2024 Paris Olympics and the planned reopening of Notre-Dame Cathedral next year after the devastating fire in 2019 could provide him with opportunities to revive his battered fortunes.
The report was provided by Aurelien Breeden, Catherine Porter, Constant Meheut And Tom Nouvian from Paris.