PROFILE: Elisabeth Borne – the resilient technocrat turned French PM

France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who has pushed through a controversial pensions overhaul without a parliament vote, is an experienced technocrat known for her resilience.

PROFILE: Elisabeth Borne - the resilient technocrat turned French PM
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne attends the 4th meeting with the youth in Matignon (Rencontres de la jeunesse de Matignon). Photo: Raphael Lafargue /POOL/AFP

The 61-year-old engineer in May last year became the first woman to head a French government in three decades. When she took office, she dedicated the moment to “all the little girls”.

“Follow your dreams, nothing must slow the fight for women’s place in our society,” she said.

Borne had proven her loyalty to President Emmanuel Macron during his first term, serving as transport, environment and finally labour minister from 2020.

During Macron’s second and last stint in office, she has as premier staunchly defended his flagship pensions reform to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

She has championed the bill both in parliament and several television interviews, while the centrist president has made very few public comments on the topic.

On Thursday, she stoically withstood boos and jeers in parliament as she deployed a controversial executive power to force through the legislation without a vote in the hung lower house.

She invoked article 49.3 of the constitution, despite previously saying she did not want to use it and after two months of nationwide demonstrations protesting against the reform.

‘The fuse’

An adviser to the president said Borne had been willing to take the fall for the deeply unpopular move.

“I think this reform is useful, necessary. I’m the fuse. It’s up to me to bear it,” he quoted her as telling the president before she appeared in front of lawmakers.

But hours later, in an interview with the TF1 broadcaster, she evaded a question about whether she was ready to sacrifice herself for the pensions overhaul.

“This is not a personal issue,” she said. “The issue here is to ensure the future of our pensions system.”

Thursday was the eleventh time Borne has invoked article 49.3 to ram through a bill since becoming head of government.

That puts her second in the ranking of prime ministers who have most used the measure, behind Michel Rocard who from 1988 to 1991 rolled it out 28 times.

Opposition lawmakers have filed for a vote of no confidence in the government next week, which they hope will bring down Borne and repeal the pensions bill.

But many believe she will survive it thanks to backing from conservative Republican lawmakers.


“She has been weakened by the use of article 49.3,” said another adviser to the president. But “if the no-confidence motion is rejected, the reform will be adopted and she won’t have lost the battle,” they said.

A minister, who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity, said Borne was not all “iron rod”. They said she had “a lot of spring” in her.

France’s first female prime minister Edith Cresson lasted under 11 months in the early 1990s, during which time she endured sexism.

Socialist senator Laurence Rossignol said Borne was different. “She is respected as a woman,” Rossignol said, but added that “as prime minister, she can be critcised”.

France’s second-ever female prime minister was born in Paris and studied at the elite Ecole Polytechnique.

Little is known about her private life, apart from that she was born to a mother with very little income and a father who took his own life when she was just 11 years old.

Her Jewish father had been deported to Auschwitz during World War II and survived the Nazi death camp, but had never fully recovered, she has said.

A lover of maths, Borne has said she finds in numbers “something quite reassuring, quite rational”.

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France court to rule on Macron pension reform on April 14th

France's highest constitutional authority will rule on President Emmanuel Macron's controversial pension reform on April 14th, it said on Wednesday, a verdict decisive for the future of the changes.

France court to rule on Macron pension reform on April 14th

The reforms were passed by parliament on March 16 after the government used a mechanism to bypass a vote by MPs,  inflaming nationwide protests.

They were considered adopted by parliament when the government survived two no confidence motions on March 20.

But the reforms can only come into law once they are validated by the Constitutional Council, which has the power to strike out some or even all of the legislation if deemed out of step with the constitution.

The council’s members — known as “les sages” (“the wise ones”) — will give two decisions when the ruling is made public on the legislation, whose headline measure raises the retirement age from 62 to 64.

The first will be on whether the legislation is in line with the French constitution.

READ MORE: Calendar: The latest French pension strike dates to remember


And the second will be on whether a demand launched by the left for a referendum on the changes is admissible.

In line with government practice for contentious new laws, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne asked the council to rule on the changes on March 21.

But leftwingers in the lower house National Assembly and upper house Senate also asked the council for a ruling, as did far-right MPs in the lower house.

If a referendum was ruled admissible, backers would need to get the signatures of a tenth of the electorate — almost five million people — for it to be called.

The president of the council is Socialist Party grandee Laurent Fabius, a former prime minister who also served as finance minister and foreign minister in his long career.

Its verdict will be a critical juncture in Macron’s battle to impose the legislation, which has seen 10 days of major strikes and protests since January, most recently on Tuesday.

READ MORE: OPINION: In France even riots used to have rules, now political violence is spiralling

New clashes between police and protesters erupted in a movement that has been marked by increasing violence since the government used the constitution’s Article 49.3 to bypass a parliamentary vote and pass the legislation.

Unions have announced a new day of strikes and protests on April 6, just over a week before the council’s decision is announced.

“The absence of a response from the executive has led to a situation of tensions in the country which seriously worries us,” the unions said on Tuesday.