Macron govt faces no-confidence vote over pensions fight

AFP , Friday 17 Mar 2023

French President Emmanuel Macron's government on Friday faced no-confidence motions in parliament and intensified protests after imposing a contentious pension reform without a vote in the lower house.

TotalEnergies union members
TotalEnergies refinery union members vote ahead of a general assembly to pursue the strike, as part of an action against the French government s proposed pensions reform in Donges, western France on March 17, 2023. AFP


The situation presents Macron, who has only made occasional public comments on the matter, with one of his biggest challenges less than one year into his second and final mandate.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Thursday invoked article 49.3 of the constitution to impose the pension overhaul by decree, sparking angry demonstrations nationwide that saw 300 people arrested, according to the interior ministry.

French opposition lawmakers on Friday retaliated by filing a motion of no-confidence in the government, hoping to repeal the deeply unpopular law to hike the retirement age from 62 to 64.

"The vote on this motion will allow us to get out on top of a deep political crisis," said lawmaker Bertrand Pancher, whose motion was signed by independents and members of the broad left-wing NUPES coalition.

The far-right National Rally (RN) filed a second motion, but that was expected to get less backing.

RN lawmaker Laure Lavalette however said her party would vote for "all" no-confidence motions filed.

"What counts is scuppering this unfair reform bill," she said.

Borne's cabinet is largely expected to survive any vote, thanks to backing from the opposition right-wing Republicans, despite an increasingly febrile political situation.

'Won't give up'

Across France, fresh protests erupted on Friday in the latest show of popular opposition to the bill since mid-January.

"We won't give up," said Philippe Melaine, a 49-year-old biology teacher. "There's still hope that the reform can be revoked."

Dozens of protesters flooded onto the train tracks at the main station in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, an AFP photographer said.

Earlier in the day, some 200 protesters briefly blocked traffic on the ring road outside the capital Paris.

In the energy sector, strikers were to halt production at a large refinery by this weekend or Monday, CGT union representative Eric Sellini said.

Strikers continued to deliver less fuel than normal from several other sites, he added.

Unions have called for another day of mass strikes and protests for next Thursday, branding the government's move "a complete denial of democracy".

'Playing with fire'

Macron put the pensions reform, which also seeks to increase the number of years people have to work to receive a full pension, at the centre of his re-election campaign last year.

But the 45-year-old centrist lost his parliamentary majority in June after elections for the lower-house National Assembly.

Opposition lawmakers jeered and booed as Borne invoked the controversial article 49.3 to ram through the pensions law on Thursday.

The move amounted to an admission the cabinet lacked a majority in the lower house to make the changes.

The influential Le Monde newspaper accused Macron of "playing with fire".

"If the country slides into a new bout of anger or locks itself into vengeful paralysis, the executive will only have itself to blame," it said in an editorial.

Borne has used the contested loophole to bypass a parliament vote 11 times since becoming prime minister last year.

RN figurehead Marine Le Pen, who leads its MPs in parliament, has described Thursday's cabinet move as "a total failure for the government".

Jean-Luc Melenchon of the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party earlier on Friday called for "spontaneous rallies across the country".

'Wreaking havoc'

Trains, schools, public services, and ports have since January been affected by strikes against the proposed reform.

A rolling strike by municipal garbage collectors in Paris has caused about 10,000 tonnes of trash to pile up in the streets, according to the mayor's office, attracting rats and putting off tourists.

Thousands of protesters massed opposite the parliament on Thursday evening.

Police used tear gas to clear protesters after a fire was lit in the center of the historic Place de la Concorde, and similar scenes unfolded across France.

The ensuing unrest saw 310 people arrested around the country, including 258 in Paris, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

"The opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but wreaking havoc is not," he said.

According to polls, two-thirds of French people oppose the pension overhaul.

The head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinez, warned this week that Macron risked "giving the keys" of the presidency to Le Pen in 2027.

The far-right leader made it into the second round against Macron in both previous presidential polls.

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