Emmanuel Macron’s government will face two confidence votes as soon as Monday amid anger over the French president’s decision to bypass the legislature in pushing through his unpopular pension reform that will boost the minimum retirement age to 64 from 62.
If a no-confidence motion gets a majority of votes — an unlikely scenario — the pension bill would be nullified and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne would have to resign. Macron would then have to appoint a new government, or he could dissolve the National Assembly and call for early elections.
Macron’s decision last week to use a constitutional provision to push the reform through inflamed an already tense situation that has weighed on his popularity. Police arrested 169 people Saturday night after protesters threw Molotov cocktails at security forces and set fire to piles of trash that had been mounting for two weeks in many cities as garbage collectors went on strike against the reform.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said over the weekend that there won’t be a majority in parliament for the no-confidence motions. “The people’s representatives will have their say in a sovereign manner Monday,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.
While passage of a no-confidence motion is unlikely, it’s not out of the question. Most political commentators say they expect between 260 and 275 parliamentarians to vote for it, short of the 287 needed to topple the government. But, as with the decision to bypass parliament, the wildcard remains the center-right Republicans party. For it to pass, about half of the 61 members would need to vote for the motion. Aurelien Pradie, who lost the race to run the party last year, said on Europe1 radio Monday that he would support the motion, as have at least four other members.
More nationwide protests are planned for March 23, while smaller demonstrations are still ongoing across France. Macron’s popularity sank to the lowest level since the days of the Yellow Vest anti-government protests in early 2019, according to a survey by Ifop for Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
The poll showed that 28% of those surveyed said they were satisfied with Macron’s performance, down 4 points from a month ago, JDD reported Sunday.
While the provision to bypass parliament, called Article 49.3, is a legal tool that has been repeatedly used, many saw Macron’s move as subverting the will of the people since the reform is rejected by an overwhelming majority of the population and failed to get enough support in the parliament.
Macron’s government has defended the reform, saying it’s needed to stabilize the finances of the pension system. Without reform, the national pension deficit could balloon to as much as 0.8% of annual economic output over the next decade, according to the country’s Pensions Advisory Council.
Even if Borne survives the no-confidence vote, the opposition would still have other options to derail the reform, such as requesting a review by the constitutional court. The court could tweak the bill or scrap it entirely. Another option would be to call for a public referendum, but that would require a complex combination of congress and voter endorsement that would take months.
And even if the legislation survives these hurdles, the dynamics at play show how difficult it will be for Macron to work with the National Assembly in the future.
This means Macron’s domestic agenda — including migration and employment reform — may now be out of reach.