French government fights to survive 2 no-confidence motions
By SYLVIE CORBET and ELAINE GANLEY Associated Press
PARIS (AP) — France’s government is facing a critical, maybe fatal, moment Monday with no-confidence motions filed by lawmakers furious that President Emmanuel Macron ordered the use of special constitutional powers to force through an unpopular bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 without giving them a vote.
National Assembly lawmakers are set to vote in the afternoon on two no-confidence motions, one from the far-right National Rally and the other, more threatening one from a small centrist group that has gathered support across the left.
The Senate, dominated by conservatives who back the retirement plan, approved the legislation last week.
The no-confidence motions each need the backing of 287 lawmakers, or half the seats in the National Assembly, to pass. The initiatives appear unlikely to succeed, since Macron’s centrist alliance has more seats than any other group in the lower chamber.
The head of The Republicans’ lawmakers, Olivier Marleix, said his group won’t vote in favor of the motions.
“We acknowledge the need for a reform to save our pension system and defend retirees’ purchasing power,” he said as the debate was going on Monday afternoon. A minority of conservatives lawmakers could stray from the party line, but it remains to be seen whether they’re willing to bring down Macron’s government.
Although the motions appear unlikely to succeed, the climate of protest that Macron’s pension reforms has sparked in parliament and on the streets means the outcome of voting in the National Assembly isn’t guaranteed. No such motion has succeeded since 1962.
Centrist lawmaker Charles de Courson, who with his group 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 exclaimed.
Hard-left lawmaker Mathilde Panot told the government that “the people are looking at you like we look at someone who betrayed, with a mix of anger and disgust.”
Laure Lavalette, of the far-right National Rally party, said “no matter what the outcome is … you have failed to convince the French.”
The tensions in the political arena are echoed on the streets, marked by intermittent protests and strikes in various sectors, from transport to energy and sanitation workers. Garbage in Paris is piling ever higher and reeking of rotting food on the 15th day of a strike by collectors. The three main incinerators serving the French capital have been mostly blocked, just like a garbage sorting center northwest of Paris.
“The goal is to support the workers on strike in Paris … to put pressure on this government that wants to pass this unjust, brutal and useless and ineffective law,” said Kamel Brahmi, of the leftist CGT union, speaking to workers with a bullhorn at the Romainville sorting plant.
Some refineries that supply gas stations also are at least partially blocked, and Transport Minister Clement Beaune said on France-Info radio Monday that he would take action if necessary to ensure that fuel still gets out.
Unions, demanding that the government simply withdraw the retirement bill, have called for new nationwide protests on Thursday.
If the no-confidence votes fail, the bill is considered adopted. It’s then expected to head to the Constitutional Council before becoming law, if validated by the body.
If a majority agrees, it would spell the end of the retirement reform plan and force the government to resign. A new Cabinet would be appointed. Macron could retain Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne should he choose; no other name has been floated.
Borne has taken the brunt of the opposition’s fury and is set to defend herself Monday before lawmakers.
Should the no-confidence motion pass, it would be a big blow to Macron, likely weighing on the remainder of his second term, which ends in 2027.
Jeffrey Schaeffer and Nicolas Garriga contributed to this report from Romainville, France.