April 19. 2024. 9:06

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French assembly driven to brink as politicians overindulge

French parliamentary deputies behaved so disgracefully during recent alcohol-fuelled debates on pension reform that the National Assembly has undertaken a comparative study of alcohol consumption in the present and previous legislatures.

The results will be announced at a meeting of the assembly’s bureau, comprised of the speaker, administrators, and political group leaders, on April 7th.

The study was prompted by reports of excessive drinking in the assembly’s buvette or refreshment bar. “Some of them order champagne from 11am,” a woman deputy from President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance coalition told Le Journal du Dimanche (JDD). “Some start on rum at 4pm. At the beginning of the debate [on pension reform] I saw a deputy so drunk that he had to be pulled up from the floor by waiters.”

A deputy from the far-left group France Unbowed denied reports that he was seen vomiting into a waste bin.

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“As soon as a session is suspended, you go to the buvette to escape the pressure cooker,” another Macronist deputy said. “It becomes a habit. I’ve seen people become alcoholics”.

France Unbowed obstructed discussion by filing 13,000 proposed amendments. The government imposed a 20-day limit on debates, which never even reached the explosive article number 7 raising the retirement age to 64.

The debate ended at midnight on February 17th, with the left chanting slogans from street demonstrations and the right singing La Marseillaise. Prime minister Elisabeth Borne accused the opposition of “turning democracy into a circus”.

On that night, “Alcohol flowed in the bar and in the gardens until 3am,” the Macronist woman deputy said. “After such a pitiful spectacle, everyone was drinking, in our group too.”

Until their scheme was discovered, far-right deputies from Marine Le Pen’s National Rally for several weeks put drinks on the tab of the far-left France Unbowed.

Politicians traded accusations over who drank more. “When we see France Unbowed deputies drinking, we joke that they’ll be heated up this evening,” a parliamentarian from Macron’s party said.

Thomas Portes, a France Unbowed member, was suspended for 15 days for an offensive tweet during the debate. Aurélien Saintoul, also from France Unbowed, was called to order after he called the labour minister Olivier Dussopt an “impostor” and “assassin”. Saintoul apologised saying he had been “tired and emotional”, a frequent euphemism for drunkenness.

Yaël Braun-Pivet, the speaker of the assembly, asked group leaders to keep an eye on their members, and to alert ushers immediately if necessary. Macronist deputies received a WhatsApp message admonishing self-control.

The draft law on pension reform moves to the Senate this week. A bi-cameral commission will attempt to agree on a text in mid-March, for a final debate on the 26th. Trade unions plan a nationwide strike and demonstrations against the reform on Tuesday, March 7th.

“Don’t close the buvette!” an environmentalist pleaded in the JDD. “It’s a neutral place in a tumultuous assembly, where you can breathe a little.”

Le Pen’s lieutenant Sébastien Chenu, who is a vice president of the assembly, jokingly proposed that the buvette be shut down at 9.30pm nightly. It was pointed out that most of the drinking occurs between 8pm and 9.30pm.

“We are the only European parliament that works at night,” a deputy from the centrist party MoDem complained. If some drank too much, he alleged, it was because of the workload.

No one really expects a ban on alcohol sales in the French assembly. But if behaviour does not improve, the assembly could be forced to reopen its “petit local”, the drying-out room which has not been used since the 19th century.