French government survives two no-confidence votes over divisive pensions bill

Far-left lawmakers hold papers reading: "64 years. It is no", "appointment in the street", "we are continuing", at the National Assembly in Paris.
Far-left lawmakers hold papers reading: "64 years. It is no", "appointment in the street", "we are continuing", at the National Assembly in Paris. Credit: AP

France's government has survived two no-confidence motions filed by lawmakers who are furious that President Emmanuel Macron used special constitutional powers to force through an unpopular pensions bill.

The bill, which raises the retirement age from 62 to 64, sparked protests over the weekend and still faces a review by the Constitutional Council before it can be signed into law.

The council has the power to reject articles within bills but usually approves them.

The first no-confidence motion, proposed by a small centrist group with support across the left, narrowly missed approval by National Assembly lawmakers on Monday afternoon, garnering 278 of the 287 votes needed to pass.

The second motion, brought by the far-right National Rally, won just 94 votes in the chamber.

Macron’s centrist alliance has more seats than any other group in the lower chamber.

The speaker of the National Assembly, Yael Braun-Pivet, said the failure of both votes means parliament has adopted the pension bill.

Yet this is not the end of the complex path to turn the bill into law.

A protester pictured in Paris on Monday. Credit: AP

Opponents said they would ask the Constitutional Council to review the text before it is formally put into effect, opening the door to the possible rejection of articles within the measure if they are not in line with the constitution.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said she would ask the council to censure it.

Macron, who has remained silent since his decision to push the bill through last week, will meet Tuesday morning with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and the leaders of his centrist alliance.

After the first vote on Monday, some leftist lawmakers called for Ms Borne to resign.

“Only nine votes are missing... to bring both the government down and its reform down,” hard-left lawmaker Mathilde Panot said.

“The government is already dead in the eyes of the French, it doesn’t have any legitimacy any more.”

The Senate, dominated by conservatives who back the retirement plan, approved the legislation last week.

The head of The Republicans’ lawmakers, Olivier Marleix, said his group would reject the motions.

“We acknowledge the need for a reform to save our pension system and defend retirees’ purchasing power,” he said during the debate on Monday afternoon.

A minority of conservatives lawmakers strayed from the party line and voted in favor of the first motion.

Centrist lawmaker Charles de Courson, whose allies introduced the motion supported by the left, deplored the government’s decision to use a special constitutional power to skirt a vote on the pension bill last week.

“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 said.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne speaks to the lawmakers at the National Assembly in Paris. Credit: AP

France, like many richer nations, has a low birth rate and its citizens have longer life expectancy.

The tensions in the political arena have been echoed on the streets, marked by protests and strikes in various sectors, including transportation, energy and sanitation workers.

Rubbish has piled higher and food rots on the streets of Paris on the 15th day of a strike by bin collectors.

On Monday, hundreds of mainly young protesters gathered by Les Invalides, the final resting place of Napoleon, to demonstrate against pension reform.

Participants listened to the proceedings in the National Assembly through a channel broadcast on loudspeaker from a union van.

Some refineries that supply gas stations have been partially blocked, and Transport Minister Clement Beaune said on Monday that he would take action if necessary to ensure that fuel still gets out.

Opinion polls show a large majority of the French oppose raising the retirement age.

The reform would require 43 years of work to earn a full pension at 64, otherwise workers would still have to wait until they turn 67.

Unions in France have called for new nationwide protests on Thursday to demand the government simply withdraw the retirement bill.

President Macron has vowed to push the pension plan through, Ms Borne said, because it is needed to keep the system from diving into deficit amid France’s aging population.

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