French gov’t survives no-confidence votes over pension reform

The French government has narrowly survived two votes of no-confidence in parliament after President Emmanuel Macron pushed through a pension reform that was met with fierce opposition from workers and some politicians.

The motions on Monday were tabled by lawmakers who were infuriated by Macron’s decision last week to bypass parliament and raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 by using special constitutional powers.
A first multiparty motion was rejected by nine votes while the 577-seat National Assembly overwhelmingly rejected a second motion brought by the far right. With the failure of both votes, the pension change is considered adopted. It will now go to the Constitutional Court for review and could become law in the coming days.

The tight result in the first vote led some left-wing lawmakers to immediately call for Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to resign.

“Only nine votes are missing … to bring both the government down and its reform down,” hard-left lawmaker Mathilde Panot said. “The government is already dead in the eyes of the French. It doesn’t have any legitimacy anymore.”

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said her group would file a request for the Constitutional Council to examine the bill on Tuesday and possibly censure it.Macron says the pension reform is needed to keep the system from diving into deficit as France’s population ages.

But critics of the reform disagree, saying it places an unfair burden on low earners, women and people doing physically demanding jobs. Opinion polls have consistently shown that two-thirds of French people oppose the changes.

Opposition to the bill has reverberated on the streets. French workers have been protesting for weeks and have pledged to continue to ramp up pressure on the government and eventually push it to scrap the law.“There is a lot of frustration among some people who feel that the government is out of touch with the concerns, and there is very much a feeling in the air, … a sense of social unrest and unease with the government,” Butler said.

She noted that the mood resembled the atmosphere of a wave of protests that began in late 2018. Back then, the so-called Yellow Vests, demonstrators known by the safety vests they wore, rallied against a plan to increase fuel taxes, which was subsequently retracted, as well as other policies sought by Macron, the rising cost of living and economic inequalities.

In Paris, rubbish is reeking as it piles ever higher on the 15th day of a strike by collectors. The three main incinerators serving the French capital have been mostly blocked as has a garbage sorting centre northwest of Paris. Some refineries that supply petrol stations also are at least partially blocked.

On Monday, hundreds of mainly young protesters gathered at Les Invalides, the final resting place of Napoleon, to demonstrate against pension reform. Some rubbish bins were set on fire, but the protest was otherwise calm. Participants listened to the proceedings in the National Assembly through a channel broadcast on loudspeakers from a union van.

“The goal is to support the workers on strike in Paris, … to put pressure on this government, which wants to pass this unjust, brutal and useless and ineffective law,” said Kamel Brahmi, of the leftist CGT union, speaking to workers with a bullhorn at the Romainville sorting plant.

Unions are demanding that the government withdraw the pension changes and have called for new nationwide protests on Thursday.

Political expert Francoise Gere from the French Strategic Analysis Institute said France is facing a “dangerous political and social crisis”.

“The important issue here is that this government is no longer credible,” Gere said. “There is a crisis of legitimacy, and Macron will have to address this situation.”

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