March 2. 2024. 2:01

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French government in danger over disputed pension reform bill


French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne resorted to a special legal procedure to adopt an unpopular pension reform bill without a vote in the National Assembly on Thursday (16 March), but opened itself up to a potential fall in the face of growing dissent among lawmakers.

The pension bill, which caused weeks of protests in France, aims to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

When the debate on the pension reform closed, after a positive vote in the Senate on Thursday morning, the National Assembly was to vote on the text.

However, fearing there is no majority, Borne decided, after consultation with President Emmanuel Macron, to invoke Article 49.3 of the Constitution, according to which the text of a law is considered adopted without a vote if no motion of censure is put forward by the deputies.

However, several opposition groups, from the left (NUPES) and the extreme right (Rassemblement National), have announced that they will table motions of censure. To be adopted, a motion of censure must be endorsed by an absolute majority, meaning 289 votes “in favour”.

Deputies already attempted to have such a motion several times at the end of 2022 but never mustered enough votes to overthrow the government.

The difference this time is that some right-wing MPs opposed to the pension reform, who did not endorse previous censure attempts, indicated that they want to support it now – although their parliamentary leader, Olivier Marleix, said his group would not endorse such a motion.

President Macron has mentioned several times the possibility of dissolving the National Assembly in case the government is toppled by a motion of censure.

Le Pen: Borne ‘must go’

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said after Borne’s announcement that the prime minister “must go”.

Her group shouted “resign! resign!” while Borne was speaking in the Chamber. “We will force Elisabeth Borne to resign,” Le Pen concluded, adding that by opposing Macron’s pension reform, “the National Assembly is in agreement with the French people”.

Communist MP Fabien Roussel denounced a “denial of democracy” on the part of the prime minister, who refused to listen to the opponents of the reform, both in the street and in the Assembly.

“The prime minister has just finished flouting and humiliating Parliament,” Roussel added.

For the leader of the radical left-wing group La France insoumise, Mathilde Panot, the motion of censure is “proof that this government is a minority”.

Several French media reported that an impromptu demonstration was growing in size on the Place de la Concorde, near the National Assembly, on Thursday afternoon.

The chair of the Economic Affairs Committee, Guillaume Kasbarian, a member of Macron’s Renaissance, explained that the ruling majority’s calculation was “very uncertain until Wednesday evening”, referring to a wafer-thin majority of two or three votes in the Assembly.

The government therefore preferred not to risk a vote, and he said this was “the least bad solution”.

Asked about the next steps, Kasbarian said he was waiting for the result of the motions of censure, but acknowledged that “the relative majority causes difficulties” and that it was a “challenge to broaden our majority around a common programme”, especially with the right.