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National Assembly rejects censure motions against French government

On Monday, March 20, the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, rejected two motions of censure tabled by opposition parties against the decision of the government led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to use article 49.3 of the Constitution to approve a controversial project to reform the pension system.

The first motion of censure, presented by the LIOT (Libertés, Indépendants, Outre-mer et Territoires) parliamentary group, was rejected by a very narrow margin. For it to pass, 287 votes were needed, and the votes in favor were 278, only 9 fewer than needed. The representatives of the Les Republicains (The Republicans) party split: 19 out of 60 voted in favor. A second motion of censure, tabled by the right-wing Rassemblement National (National Rally) party, was also rejected: only 94 representatives voted in favor.

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The rejection of the motions, which are equivalent to a vote of no confidence, was expected by most analysts and commentators. However, the narrow margin by which Borne's government survived the vote leaves doubts as to its endurance. Borne's government is in the minority in the National Assembly and has so far governed with the outside support of the center party Les Republicains. Although they favored raising the retirement age to 65, the deputies of Le Republicans did not support the reform Macron and the Borne government wanted, and even split their vote on the motion of censure. The Prime Minister has resorted 11 times to the use of article 49.3: an instrument introduced in 1958 by the then president Charles De Gaulle, which is considered undemocratic by various analysts as well as by all the opposition parties.

The legislative process of the reform of the pension system desired by French President Emmanuel Macron can therefore continue. The reform provides for an increase in the retirement age from 62 to 64, as well as some changes to the complex French social security system. Macron had already tried to reform the pension system in 2019, during his first term, but without success. This time, despite strong opposition from the citizens, he succeeded in his intent, but not without costs in terms of political consensus.

According to a recent IFOP-JDD poll, the approval rating of the French president dropped by 4 points this month, falling to 28%. Moreover, the reform is opposed by the majority of French citizens: at least two-thirds according to polls.

The Nation Assembly in the background of protests (Associated Press)

The protests against the reform have been going on for months and, according to sources inside the organization, they have so far involved almost 4 million people. Yesterday evening, following the vote of the National Assembly, there were large demonstrations in various cities in France. The unions also announced a general mobilization scheduled for Thursday.

A final step for the definitive approval will concern an examination by the Constitutional Council. The opposition parties have collected enough votes for it to be examined. The Council has thirty days to do so, or eight if the government requests the urgent procedure, an option considered probable. French analysts believe the law is unlikely to be declared unconstitutional, but the maneuver will prolong time and put pressure on the president, especially if the protest movement grows. There have already been numerous calls for him not to enact it, even if Macron has always been determined to complete the reform.


Edited by: Ritaja Kar

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