French government defiant on pensions ahead of crucial votes

France's government on Sunday held its ground over a bitterly contested pension reform rammed through parliament without a vote, a day before it faces crucial no-confidence motions.

French government defiant on pensions ahead of crucial votes
France's Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne (L), flanked by France's Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt (2ndR) and France's Minister for the Economy and Finances Bruno Le Maire. Photo: Alain JOCARD/AFP

“There will be no majority to bring the government down, but it will be a moment of truth,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said of the two efforts to unseat the cabinet planned for Monday afternoon.

“I understand our countrymen’s fears and anxieties, but we will definitely not improve things by denying economic reality,” he told daily Le Parisien.

READ ALSO What does Monday’s no-confidence vote mean for Macron and France?

Monday’s two no-confidence motions have been filed by a small group of centrist MPs and the far-right National Rally.

Although President Emmanuel Macron’s camp has no absolute majority in the lower house National Assembly, it is the largest group and all of the opposition would need to unite for one of the votes to pass.

Most MPs from the conservative Republicans party are not expected to back a no-confidence motion.

Republicans chief Eric Ciotti wrote on Twitter Sunday that his constituency office had been pelted with rocks overnight.

“The killers who did this want to put pressure on my vote on Monday,” Ciotti wrote on Twitter, posting pictures showing smashed windows and threatening graffiti.

He has previously said that he would not “add chaos to chaos” by kicking the government out.

‘What do we have left?’

The government’s Thursday decision to resort to Article 49.3 of the constitution — which allows ramming a bill through parliament without a vote — has prompted anger in the streets after weeks of mostly peaceful protests and strikes against the plans.

Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt told the JDD weekly that “it’s not an admission of failure, but it’s heart-breaking” to have used the nuclear option to pass the reform.

Police on Saturday closed Paris’ Place de la Concorde opposite parliament for demonstrations following two successive nights of clashes.

Some 122 people were arrested as some set rubbish bins on fire, destroyed bus stops and erected improvised barricades around a 4,000-strong demonstration in the capital.

They made up the majority of Saturday’s 169 arrests nationwide.

Other demonstrations in cities around France had passed off peacefully, with hundreds turning out in the Mediterranean port city Marseille.

“What do we have left apart from continuing to demonstrate?” said Romain Morizot, a 33-year-old telecoms engineer, at the Marseille protest, predicting “social tensions” over the reform.

“There’s deep discontent, there’s a huge majority against this law, and we have a president who keeps moving forward and changing his arguments as he goes,” hard-left CGT union leader Philippe Martinez told broadcaster BFM Sunday.

People close to Macron told AFP that the president was “of course following developments” on the ground.

Refinery shutdown

Away from the streets of major cities, the CGT said Saturday that workers would shut down France’s largest oil refinery in Normandy, warning that two more could follow on Monday.

So far, strikers had only prevented fuel deliveries from leaving refineries but not completely halted operations.

Industrial action has also halted rubbish collection in much of Paris, with around 10,000 tonnes of waste now on the streets as the government forces some binmen back to work.

A ninth day of wider strikes and protests is planned for Thursday.

Macron’s reform raises the legal retirement age from 62 to 64 as well as increasing the number of years people must pay into the system to receive a full pension.

The government says the changes are needed to avoid crippling deficits in the coming decades linked to France’s ageing population.

“Those among us who can will gradually need to work more to finance our social model, which is one of the most generous in the world,” Le Maire said.

But opponents say the law places an unfair burden on low earners, women and people doing physically wearing jobs, and polls have consistently showed majorities opposed to the changes.

A survey of 2,000 people published in the JDD Sunday gave Macron an approval rating of 28 percent, its lowest since 2019’s mass “yellow vests” demonstrations against a new fuel tax.

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BREAKING: French government survives no-confidence votes over pension reform

The French government survived two no-confidence motions in parliament on Monday evening over its decision to impose controversial pension reform without a vote in the National Assembly - and protests once again broke out in several French cities.

BREAKING: French government survives no-confidence votes over pension reform

A multi-party vote of no-confidence in French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s government was defeated by just nine votes on Monday evening.

The motion  brought by the centrist Liot coalition garnered 278 votes in the 577-seat National Assembly, just nine short of the necessary 287 MPs needed to topple the government.

READ ALSO What does the no-confidence vote mean for Macron and for France?

Following that first vote, France’s Assemblée Nationale voted on a second no-confidence motion brought by the far-right National Rally (RN) seen as less dangerous for the government.

Unlike the first motion the second brought by the far-right party was overwhelmingly rejected by parliament.

Both motions of no-confidence were sparked by the decision of the government to use Article 49.3 of the constitution to force through highly controversial reforms of the pension system without a vote in the lower house, the Assemblée Nationale.

The decision sparked a weekend of protests – some violent – across France.

Immediately after the vote, MPs from the leftist Nupes alliance brandished signs saying ‘RIP’ and ‘gather in the streets’.

The no-confidence vote was tabled by the small parliamentary group known as Liot, largely composed of MPs from France’s overseas territories and Corsica and attracted support from both the Leftist group in parliament and the far-right Rassemblement National.

However with both Macron’s centrist alliance Ensemble and some of the centre-right Les Républicains not supporting the motion, it failed to gather the necessary votes – although with a margin of only none votes it is the closest shave yet for Macron’s party, which does not have an overall majority in parliament.

Borne had signalled before the vote that will meet the leaders of all the parliamentary groups on Monday evening.

After the news of the vote broke, demonstrations began in several towns and cities around France.

At least 70 people were arrested in Paris, with bins and street furniture set on fire in several areas.

Shortly after the vote, a protest of several hundred people began in the Place Vauban, calling for Emmanuel Macron’s resignation.