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France's Macron faces another test with no-confidence vote on pension reform Monday

Published 19/03/2023, 10:21
© Reuters. People attend a demonstration to protest the use by French government of the article 49.3, a special clause in the French Constitution, to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers, in Nantes, France, March 18

By Dominique Vidalon

PARIS (Reuters) -President Emanuel Macron faces a critical moment on Monday when the French National Assembly is due to vote on no-confidence motions filed after his government bypassed parliament on Thursday to push through an unpopular rise in the state pension age.

The move, which followed weeks of protests against the pension overhaul, triggered three nights of unrest and demonstrations in Paris and throughout the country, with hundreds of people arrested, reminiscent of the Yellow Vest protests that erupted in late 2018 over high fuel prices.

In a sign that Macron was holding firm, his office on Sunday evening said the president had called the heads of the Senate upper house and of the National Assembly to say he wanted the pension reform to go to "the end of its democratic process".

Macron also told them the government was mobilised to "protect" members of parliament who are facing pressure ahead of the vote.

However, while Monday's votes may put on display the level of anger at Macron's government, they are unlikely to bring it down.

Opposition lawmakers filed two motions of no-confidence in parliament on Friday.

Centrist group Liot proposed a multiparty no-confidence motion, which was co-signed by the far-left Nupes alliance. Hours later, France's far-right National Rally party, which has 88 National Assembly members, also filed a no-confidence motion.

But even though Macron's party lost its absolute majority in the lower house after elections last year, there was little chance the multi-party motion would go through - unless a surprise alliance of lawmakers from all sides is formed from the far-left to the far-right.

The leaders of the conservative Les Republicains (LR) party have ruled out such an alliance. None of them had sponsored the first no-confidence motion filed on Friday.

But the party still faced some pressure.

In the southern city of Nice, the political office of Eric Ciotti, leader of Les Republicains, was ransacked overnight and tags were left threatening riots if the motion was not supported.

"They want through violence to put pressure on my vote on Monday. I will never yield to the new disciples of the Terror," Ciotti wrote on Twitter.

BROAD ALLIANCE

Macron's overhaul raises the pension age by two years to 64, which the government says is essential to ensure the system does not go bust.

Even if the government survives Monday's no confidence vote, a broad alliance of France's main unions has said it would continue to mobilise to try to force a U-turn on the changes. A day of nationwide industrial action is scheduled for Thursday.

Laurent Berger, leader of the moderate CFDT labour union, told French daily Liberation that the pension reform was "not a failure, it is a shipwreck" for the government.

Philippe Martinez, leader of the hard-left CGT labour union, said on BFM television that he condemned violence but it was Macron's "responsibility if the level of anger is so high".

Macron’s approval ratings have fallen four points in the past month to 28%, according to an IFOP-Journal du Dimanche poll, their lowest level since the Yellow Vest crisis.

Strikes at the country's refineries persisted over the weekend, raising concerns of potential fuel shortages.

Less than 4% of French petrol stations were however experiencing supply disruptions, Rene-Jean Souquet-Grumey, an official for the Mobilians petrol stations federation, told Franceinfo radio on Sunday.

Rolling strikes continued on the railways, while rubbish has piled up on the streets of Paris after refuse workers joined the action.

© Reuters. A view shows the political office of Eric Ciotti, leader of the French conservative party Les Republicains (LR), which was vandalized during the night in Nice, France, March 19, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Le Parisien newspaper, commenting on prospects for Monday's votes: "I think there will be no majority to bring down the government. But this will be a moment of truth".

"Is the pension reform worth bringing down the government and (creating) political disorder? The answer is clearly no. Everyone must take his responsibilities," he added.

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