LATEST: French government forces through pension reform without MPs vote

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AFP/The Local France - [email protected]
LATEST: French government forces through pension reform without MPs vote

President Emmanuel Macron's government decided on Thursday to use a legislative tool to force the deeply unpopular pension reform bill through parliament without giving MPs the chance to vote.


Announcing the decision in parliament, prime minister Elisabeth Borne said: "We cannot bet on the future of our pensions."

He speech was greeted with jeers from the left-wing opposition who also loudly sang the French national anthem the Marseillaise in protest.

Marine Le Pen's Rassemblement National party immediately announced a vote of no-confidence in the government, although several opposition parties would need to support the vote in order to topple Borne.

Thursday was the day when MPs in the French National Assemblée were due to begin voting on the highly controversial bill to reform the French pension system, which has been provoking weeks of strikes and demos.

However on Thursday afternoon reports emerged that the government was prepared to use Article 49.3, which allows the government to push a bill through even without a majority vote.

Macron opted to invoke article 49.3 of the French constitution after a frantic series of meetings with senior figures, including Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, that appeared to reveal there was no majority in parliament to adopt the reform.


Borne officially announced the contentious move in parliament amid jeering and whistles from opposition benches. She said it was the "responsibility of her government".

"This reform is necessary," she said. Justifying the use of 49:3 instead of putting the bill to a vote in parliament Borne said: "We cannot risk throwing away the hours of debate and the compromises reached between the two chambers."

Macron had called his ministers together on Thursday afternoon to confirm that the government intended to use the controversial constitutional power. The debate in the National Assembly was opened and then immediately suspended.

The government had to make a decision before a vote started, as the power cannot be used after a vote has been lost, and it seemed they were unsure they had enough votes to carry the bill through.

This reform is the flagship domestic policy of Macron’s second and final term in office, with the president determined to implement it despite fierce opposition from the political left and unions, but also the wider public. 

Macron also made it part of his re-election campaign in 2022 - and argues that the fact that he won gives him a mandate for the reform even without parliament's agreement.

The bill contains a number of different articles including the headline-grabbing Article 7 - which raises the standard retirement age from 62 to 64 - and changes to the 'special regimes' that allow many public sector workers to retire early. 


Thursday, March 16th

There were two votes scheduled on Thursday, one in the Senate and then later in the day MPs in the Assemblée nationale were set to begin voting.

The Senate, dominated by the centre-right, passed the bill on Thursday morning, but the vote in the Assemblée nationale was expected to be much closer - and this is the key vote.

"In my group, as well as in the ruling party, there are some MPs who do not want to vote for this reform," the top-ranking Republicans party lawmaker in the Assembly, Olivier Marleix, conceded on Wednesday evening.

At 12pm, Macron called a Council of Ministers and shortly before 3pm - just minutes before voting was due to start - came the announcement that they would use 49.3 and therefore the vote was cancelled.


The use of the constitutional power to force through such a contentious issue will be highly inflammatory and risks alienating political allies, as well as igniting major street protests.



How did we get here?

MPs in the lower house, the Assemblée nationale, started debating the reform bill in early February. Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said, at the start of a stormy Assembly debate, that: “Our (pensions) system is structurally in deficit… Doing nothing is not an option.”

The debates were extremely stormy and parliament was suspended several times because of the rowdy behaviour and ripe language of certain politicians. In the end, the debate time ran out before they even got to the most controversial bit - Article 7, which is about the raising of the pension age - and the bill moved to the Senate.

Then, the reform passed to the France's upper chamber of parliament, where Senators debated for 11 days and eventually voted late on Saturday, March 11th to pass the reform by 195 votes to 112. The next step was the joint committee, known as a commission mixte paritaire (CMP), which was made up of seven senators and seven MPs who examined the text and established a final version.

Even without a vote and the bill passing, it's highly unlikely that this will be the final word on the matter.

You can keep up to date with the latest pension strike announcements HERE.


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