How did France's government impose its pension reform?

How did France's government impose its pension reform?

French left-wing lawmakers react to Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoking the 49.3
French left-wing lawmakers react to Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoking the 49.3. Photo: Alain JOCARD / AFP
Source: AFP

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The constitutional power used by the French government on Thursday to ram through parliament a hotly contested pension reform is deeply controversial and seen as undemocratic by critics.

Article 49.3 of the constitution, widely referred to as "the 49.3" in France, allows a prime minister to push draft legislation through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers.

A bill is then considered adopted, although opposition lawmakers are able to call a vote of no-confidence in the government within the following 24 hours which could reverse the move if passed.

"In the eyes of French people, the 49.3 is associated with brutality," Antoine Bristielle, a public opinion expert at the Fondation Jean-Jaures, a Paris think-tank, told AFP.

President Emmanuel Macron's government chose to deploy the article on Thursday to pass the pensions overhaul after two months of heated debate in parliament, as well as strikes and mass protests in the streets.

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The upper-chamber Senate, which is dominated by conservatives, approved the bill on Thursday morning.

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"When you don't have a majority or at least no guaranteed majority in the National Assembly, you invoke the 49.3," explained constitutional expert Dominique Rousseau.

You do this "either to bring it to heel... or because you are not certain you will secure enough votes," Rousseau said.

Thursday saw the article used for the 100th time under France's modern constitution, which created an all-powerful president in 1958, overturning the previous one and its parliamentary system.

Under the modern fifth republic, 16 prime ministers have used the article and have managed to stay in power.

Macron's government is expected to survive a no-confidence vote after the head of the opposition Republicans party said it would vote with the president's allies, which are 39 seats short of a majority in the 577-seat assembly.

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Michel Rocard, who was prime minister from 1988 to 1991, holds the record for using the 49.3, having deployed it 28 times.

Borne holds second place in the ranking, despite only becoming head of government following Macron's re-election for a second term in May last year.

She has invoked it 11 times.

In just two months late last year, she used it 10 times, including to push through the 2023 state and social security budgets.

In recent decades, the measure has proven useful for even those presidents who initially disapproved of it.

When Francois Hollande was still a member of parliament, he criticised then prime minister Dominique de Villepin for using the article, calling it "anti-democratic".

But a decade later, when he was president, his head of government Manuel Valls rolled out the 49.3 six times.

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Source: AFP

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