The two no-confidence votes tabled to topple French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s government were rejected on Monday (20 March), keeping her in power for the time being. Despite this, the political crisis is far from over, MPs and observers note.
On Monday, the French government faced two motions of censure, one tabled by the independent LIOT group and a second by the far-right Rassemblement National group.
The first motion, tabled by LIOT, failed by nine votes, with 278 in favour from across the aisle – the closest a no-confidence vote has come to toppling the government under Macron’s mandate.
The second motion failed by a larger margin, with 94 voting in favour – as many MPs refuse to back motions tabled by the far-right.
The motions were tabled following the government’s attempt to push through its controversial pension reform via a constitutional mechanism that allows it to bypass a vote in the National Assembly (Article 49.3), and forcibly adopt the text. In exchange, the oppositions can table no confidence motions in order to topple the government and to reject such a bill.
The result means that the government remains in place and the pension reform is considered adopted. However, the reform must first pass various constitutionality checks – to be carried out by the Constitutional Council – following appeals from across the political spectrum. The process could lead to a partial invalidation of the text before its promulgation.
A continuing political crisis
Despite the governenment narrowly surviving the vote, the political crisis continues.
Independent MP Charles de Courson, who defended the motion of censure for the LIOT group, denounced the attitude of the government, which he described as having “used all possible manoeuvres […] to twist the procedures”.
“This project has no democratic legitimacy”, he said of the pension reform, adding that “many of us voted for Emmanuel Macron [during the presidential election] by default” against Marine Le Pen.
The MP highlighted that this is the eleventh time in the space of less than a year that the government has used Article 49.3 of the Constitution, adding that it is both a “denial of social democracy” and has caused a “political and social crisis”.
Similar sentiments have been echoed from other parties.
“What is legal is not necessarily legitimate,” said Green MP Cyrielle Chatelain. “You no longer have the means to govern a country that is riddled with distrust since the yellow vests,” she said, directed to the government.
On the right, the leader of the Les Républicains group Olivier Marleix, who is in favour of the reform, said that “the problem today is not the pension reform, it is the president of the Republic”.
According to him, President Emmanuel Macron and his successive governments have implemented an “isolated, sometimes narcissistic and often arrogant exercise of power, as if insensitive to the lives of French men and women”, expressing concern about Macron’s “disconnect” with the country.
Asked by EURACTIV, MPs from Macron’s centrist Renaissance party said that in order to turn the page on the pension reform and get out of the political crisis, it is necessary to “open a new political sequence” and give a “direction to the five-year term”.
“We are in a difficult moment. We will have to discuss within our group, within the presidential majority, on all the work in the Assembly that will follow,” said Violette Spillebout, MP and Renaissance spokesperson.
However, Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, chairman of the European Affairs Committee, said that “political awareness cannot come from the president alone”. He called on the opposition to show “responsibility and goodwill”.
“We often call for a new [political] culture, but it must go both ways,” he added.
Meanwhile, mobilisation in the streets persists, with demonstrations – both spontaneous and called for by trade unions – having continued for over a week in Paris and other big cities.
A further strike has been called by all trade unions for Thursday (23 March).
After the rejection of the bill, parliamentarians, especially from the left, called for “continuing the fight” in order to obtain a rejection.