Government opponents confront police in Paris, France, after the government of Emmanuel Macron survived two no-confidence votes in the National Assembly over the pension reform plan on March 20, 2023. EFE/EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON

Macron and pension reform plan narrowly avoid parliamentary censure

By Luis Miguel Pascual

Government opponents in the National Assembly in Paris, France, after the government of Emmanuel Macron survived two no-confidence votes in parliament over the pension reform plan on March 20, 2023.EFE/EPA/TERESA SUAREZ

Paris, Mar 20 (EFE).- By a margin of just nine votes, French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday avoided a no-confidence vote in the 577-seat National Assembly, thus preserving his government and his pension reform plan that has sparked huge demonstrations around the country resulting in the paralysis of certain economic sectors.

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne in the National Assembly in Paris on March 20, 2023. EFE/EPA/TERESA SUAREZ

More than ever, however, the weakness of the president’s ruling party was demonstrated in the national legislature, where the government of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne faced two censure motions, the 15th and 16th since she was named premier a year ago, thus avoiding being toppled by a narrow margin.

Paris (France), 20/03/2023.- French left-wing parliamentary groups members of the 'Nupes' coalition (New Popular Ecological and Social Union) stand behind a banner that reads 'We keep on' after a vote of no-confidence against the government was rejected at the National Assembly in Paris, France, 20 March 2023. EFE/EPA/TERESA SUAREZ

The first censure motion, presented by a group of centrist, regionalist and independent lawmakers, garnered 278 of the 287 votes needed to pass, while the other motion by the extreme right received only 94 votes, a few more than the number of lawmakers supporting ultrarightist leader and former losing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen.

The result was a relief for the government but it also confirmed that Macron’s margin for maneuver is very tight and that every bill he might want to get through the National Assembly is facing a rocky road, all this giving wings to the mobilization by various forces against his administration.

Since Macron’s party lost its absolute majority in the Assembly in the legislative elections last June, Borne has not been able to knit together the alliances she has needed, a situation that had resulted in the government on 11 occasions having to implement reforms without a parliamentary vote.

Up to now, the premier has managed, more or less, to get some bills through Parliament thanks to the support of the Republicans (LR), the traditional party of the French right, but that group fractured in its support of the pension reform Macron wants to push through.

Almost a third of the 61 LR lawmakers this time supported the first censure motion, putting the government in a quandry with that party seemingly on the verge of a breakdown amid internecine warfare despite just having held a party convention.

The LR leadership said that plans are to expel 19 unruly lawmakers who refuse to stick to the party line.

Both the left and the extreme right viewed the close shave that Macron and his party had in Parliament as something of a victory, saying that the support for the government is eroding as time goes by.

In addition, they announced resorting to the Constitutional Council to oppose the pension reform, a move that will set its entry into force back by some weeks.

But the left was clear in calling for further moves to combat the reform on the streets, where since early 2023 the unions have been staging more and more demonstrations and strikes in opposition to Macron’s plan to raise by two years – to 64 – the age at which people can begin collecting their retirement pensions.

“Nine votes can’t stop social democracy. The people have to intervene in this matter and that’s what’s going to happen,” said leftist leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who called for a continuation of the demonstrations against the reform.

Extreme rightist leader Marine Le Pen, meanwhile, said that “The government is losing legitimacy” and appealed to Macron to call a referendum on the pension reform.

Le Pen said that the political crisis France is going through can only be overcome “at the polls,” and she called for dissolving the current National Assembly and calling legislative elections.

Those opposed to the reform continue demonstrating against in cities around the country, while the most combative union, the CGT, said that approving it “is not halting the workers’ determination.”

Shortly after the votes in the Assembly, an anti-reform demonstration began on Vauban Square in Paris, next to Napoleon’s mausoleum.

Police said that at least 101 people were arrested in the French capital alone in confrontations between protesters and security forces.

Several economic sectors, like transportation, education and trash collection in several cities have called for a strike in the coming days and unions have convened for Thursday a ninth day of work stoppages and demonstrations.

During the debate on the no-confidence votes, Borne said that the reform was one of the commitments Macron had made during his reelection campaign and accused the opposition of conferring more legitimacy on the street than on the government institutions.

“The democratic path for this essential reform is over,” said Borne after the motions were rejected, presumably meaning that the government – deeming it to be a critically needed measure – will push it through without further attempts to gain parliamentary or public approval.

She added that “nobody has a monopoly on speaking in the name of the people” and called for all to respect democratic institutions.

EFE lmpg/rcf/bp