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French government survives no-confidence votes over pension reform

Lawmakers in France’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, hear Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s defence of the use of constitutional powers to force through a contested pension reform, 3 March 2020.
Lawmakers in France’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, hear Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s defence of the use of constitutional powers to force through a contested pension reform, 3 March 2020. AFP/Ludovic Marin
3 min

French President Emmanuel Macron’s government survived two no-confidence votes in parliament late Tuesday, opening the way for it to force an overhaul of the country’s retirement system through parliament despite months of strikes and protests.

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The no-confidence votes were called after Prime Minister Edouard Philippe decided last week to invoke article 49.3 of the Constitution, which allows the government to push a bill through parliament if it still maintains majority support.

The government easily survived both votes as Macron’s Republic on the Move party holds a majority in France’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly.

One motion from right-wing Les Républicains party, which was backed by far-right National Rally, garnered 148 votes, while the other, from the left-wing Socialist Party, Communist Party and France Unbowed movement got 91, both short of the 289 votes needed.

The outcome means the bill will go to the Senate, where conservatives have the majority, before heading back to the National Assembly, which ultimately has the final say.

Constitutional powers spark protests

Reforming the pension system was a key promise of Macron’s 2017 presidential campaign. His administration has argued plans to unify 42 state-funded retirement schemes into a single points-based system will be fairer and more sustainable.

Plans to reform the retirement system triggered France’s longest public transit strikes in decades through December and January, with striking workers saying the reform would effectively raise the retirement age and force workers to work longer for smaller pensions.

Unions and left-wing parties say the reform would weaken France’s welfare state and force workers to rely on private pension funds, while right-wing parties say the reforms do not go far enough.

Philippe invoked the constitutional article to pass the reform after opposition parties filed a record 41,000 amendments in an attempt to slow down the process. He said the reform was the only way to save France’s system for a population that lives longer.

“This model is our most precious asset,” Philippe told lawmakers. “We must fix it when it is not working in order to pass it on to our children.”

As lawmakers heard Philippe’s defence of the reform and prepared the no-confidence votes, thousands of protesters rallied in Paris and around the country against the use of the constitutional powers.

The government hopes to pass the law by summer. New strikes and protests are planned 31 March.

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