After Macron’s use of the “nuclear option” on the unpopular pension reform, what’s next?

Several consequences could arise from the French government’s use of Article 49.3 of the constitution to pass President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform without a vote in the National Assembly on Thursday. They include a motion of no confidence in the government, the dissolution of the Assembly and ongoing street protests. FRANCE 24 breaks down the options of the opposition and the president.

After Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne invoked on Thursday the power enshrined in Article 49.3 of the Constitution allowing the government to vote without a vote in the Assembly of the lower house on bills, opponents of the pension reform still have playing cards. They hope to force the government to back down before the enactment of the controversial law, which provides for a rise in the retirement age from 62 to 64.

According to a member of the Ile-de-France member of the left-wing coalition NUPES (New People’s Ecological and Social Union), the opposition members hope to use “all the means at their disposal” to sink the pension reform. These include supporting organized protests, casting a vote of no confidence in the government, launching a referendum to potentially kill reform and appealing to the French Constitutional Council.

A vote of no confidence in the government

Following Borne’s quote from 49.3 as opposition MPs sang The Marseillaise, the national anthem of France, and held signs saying “non!” at the retirement age of 64, MPs from two parliamentary groups cast votes of no confidence in the cabinet she leads. The first came from the group LIOT (for Liberties, Independents, Overseas and Territories) made up of centrists and moderates, and the second came from Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally (National Gathering or RN).

Co-signed by the left-wing group NUPES, the multi-party motion of the LIOT group is of further concern to the government. He could receive support from other members of the left, the far right and even members of the center-right The Republicans (LR), who want to bring down the government and its pension reform. The LIOT small group thus finds itself at a turning point in opposition to Macron from both right and left.

Votes of no confidence must be cast within 24 hours of the government triggering Rule 49.3, and debate may then begin after 48 hours, at a time determined by a body of the Assembly composed of MPs holding various positions of management. The debates on the two votes of no confidence tabled will begin in the Assembly on Monday, March 20 at 4 p.m., Paris time. A successful vote of no confidence must secure the support of an absolute majority of MPs – 287, at present – ​​which prevents a simple majority aided by abstentions from toppling a government.

With this requirement, a vote is unlikely to pass. Even with the support of all 149 deputies from the NUPES, 88 from the RN and 20 from the LIOT, the motion would fall short of 32 votes. To fill this gap, more than half of The Republicans it would also be necessary for the deputies to support it, despite the opposition of party president Éric Ciotti to such a course of action. This means a successful vote would require the support of unlikely defectors from Macron. Renaissance party or its parliamentary allies in Modem and Horizons.

If either of the votes of no confidence were successful, the pension reform law passed by the government would be thrown out. Macron could then choose to appoint a new prime minister or keep his faith in Borne – and, in that case, dissolve the National Assembly, a decision taken by French President Charles de Gaulle in 1962 in the only such vote. that has happened since the foundation. of the Fifth French Republic.

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Dissolve the National Assembly

Macron mentioned the dissolution of the Assembly as a recurring threat since the legislative elections last June left his party with only a relative majority. She remained a threat on the eve of the forced vote on the pension reform, in the hope of obtaining The Republicans lawmakers who were hesitant to vote for the bill to fall into line.

The idea of ​​following in de Gaulle’s footsteps by dissolving parliament after a vote of no confidence would no doubt appeal to Macron. Even some of his supporters see new parliamentary elections as a solution to the post-49.3 situation. An anonymous Renaissance The deputy said the accumulation of 49.3 usage amounts to “a crash”. We need a dissolution” – which, with an ensuing election victory, would bolster Macron’s political capital.

But the maneuver is risky. In 1997, then-president Jacques Chirac tried his hand at it and lost his majority in the Assembly. The same could happen to Macron in 2023 if he took the risk of doing so.

It is difficult to predict which party would win in new legislative elections. The leftists in NUPES could win many more seats by capitalizing on the popular movement against pension reform. But observers warn the far-right RN, thriving on growing discontent in French society, would be the likeliest winner. The Assembly could then be more fragmented than ever, making the existence of a majority unlikely.

More protests and strikes

The next stage of the pension reform saga will also be played out on the streets. After the government’s decision to use 49.3, the French trade union collective met and denounced “a denial of democracy” and the passage of the bill “by force”.

“Today, it is this exemplary social movement which demonstrates that the President of the Republic and his government have failed before the National Assembly,” wrote the eight main French unions in their press release.

The intersyndicale called for “local rallies” on the weekend of March 18 and for a ninth day of strikes and demonstrations throughout France on Thursday March 23.

After weeks of peaceful protests, street protests may escalate in ways beyond the unions’ control. Several spontaneous demonstrations took place in French cities after Borne used 49.3, leading to multiple incidents and arrests.

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Towards a popular referendum?

The NUPES leftists prefer to reserve several options in their fight against Macron’s pension reform. If a vote of no confidence fails, launching a type of referendum called shared initiative referendum (a shared initiative referendum, or RIP) could be another option.

A constitutional tool available to parliamentarians, the RIP makes it possible to organize a popular referendum on a bill if 185 French legislators (one-fifth of the 577 deputies in the lower house and 348 senators in the upper house) support it. A RIP must also be supported by 4.87 million French voters, or a tenth of the electorate, whose signatures must be collected within nine months.

The procedure would allow opponents of the pension plan “to block the implementation of the reform for nine months”, according to Socialist MP Valérie Rabault, Vice-President of the Assembly. But “if a RIP is triggered” on (the question of) pensions, “it must be before the promulgation of the law”, she specified.

However, according to French Communist Party MP Stéphane Peu, who along with Rabault is a member of NUPES, the left-wing coalition has had the support of the 185 lawmakers needed since March 14, two days before Borne invoked 49.3. Peu’s bill will propose that “the retirement age cannot exceed 62,” he said.

The constitutionnal Council

The RIP is not the last option for opponents if votes of no confidence fail. “There would have been several appeals to the Constitutional Council against this text if it had been voted”, declared Charles de Courson, LIOT deputy, on March 14.

Mathilde Panot, leader of the far left Insubordinate France (France insoumise, LFI) in the Assembly, promised that the left would appeal to the council. NUPES will argue that the reform, which has been inserted into the social security budget, is a legislative amendment, since the text does not only deal with finances.

The deputies on the left intend to rely on the opinion of France Board of state (Council of State), which had warned the government of a risk of unconstitutionality of certain measures of its pension reform plan, as well as the absence of clear calculations of the plan.

This article is a translation of original in French.


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