When parliament fails to agree


Benoit Tessier / Reuters

The French government pushed through pension reform without a vote in the National Assembly. What's next?

Article 49.3 of the French Constitution is now known even to primary school children, it has been mentioned so often lately. It allows the government to consider a bill approved, even if the parliament has not voted for it. It is supposed to be used only in extreme cases, but the case of the pension reform is exactly the one. Now the French will retire at 64 instead of 62.

Just for the record, the pension in France is calculated this way. The best 10 years of your career are chosen, the arithmetic average is derived, and 70 percent of this figure is taken - this is your pension. If you are lazy to count: you had 5 thousand euros - your pension will be 3,500. This, for example, is more than the salary of a public school principal at the end of his career.

Virtually all presidents have been approaching retirement age reform. For example, Sarkozy was indignant, why do, for instance, train drivers retire early at the age of 55? Because their work is considered "especially hard"? But pardon me, this decision was made almost in the days of the Popular Front, in the mid-30s. Then there were steam locomotives and really had to throw coal in the furnace, but now the driver of the high-speed train sits in the cabin with air conditioning, using a joystick controls fully computerized train and retires at 55? What kind of ooh-la-la-la?

The government did not have a majority in parliament. There were long counts of parliamentary seats, but - no, no way. On the last day, Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne decided to get the proverbial 49.3 out of her joker's pocket.

French observers considered this trick as a sign of the regime's weakness. Since no absolute presidential majority can be assembled, a serious political crisis looms ahead. Because the application of Article 49.3 demonstrates in itself that the government does not have support.

Not to mention the fact that the reaction of the street was expected. Burning cars, smashing storefronts, and other French fun. "Popular and union outrage could, in the worst case, lead to a total blockade of the country," says political scientist Christophe Lusset. And if this does not happen now, this accumulated protest potential will spill over in other circumstances.

How can you not remember the "Yellow Jackets," which raged for more than a year, starting with demands to stop the rise in gasoline prices and ending with a list of demands of more than 100 items, and gasoline was not even included in the first half.

The opposition has three options for further action: a vote of no confidence in the government, a challenge to the Constitutional Council, and the calling of a referendum. Everything has its own nuances, in particular the promulgation of the law by the president.

A vote of no confidence is the traditional procedure when applying Article 49.3. The signatures of a tenth of deputies, i.e. 58 people, are enough to pass a vote of no confidence. In principle, the text of the vote of no confidence, even several variants, were written a few days before, when it was not even completely clear that Borne would use this trick.

However, in order to pass the vote, it is necessary to obtain an absolute number of votes, i.e., 287. If you add up all the opponents - Nupes, RN, Liot, and non-party people - you get 268. In other words, to bring down the government, it is necessary to find 25 people, most likely defectors from Sarkozy's Republicans.

In order to challenge the law in the Constitutional Council, it is necessary to find any contradictions in it. Naturally, such contradictions were found a long time ago. First and foremost is the inconsistency between the pension reform and the law on the financing of the social security system. And it is the latter which will pay pensions. But this can be fixed, and the social security system will be taken care of as well.

The Constitutional Council needs the signatures of 60 deputies or senators, and the opposition has them. The President has no right to sign the law until he receives the "permission" from the Constitutional Council. If he does not get it, the government will start redrafting the law.

Calling a referendum is the most difficult event of all. It is not so difficult to introduce the initiative, the consent of 185 deputies is enough, and as we can see, there are even more than enough of them. The difficulties begin later.

After the initiative is approved by the Constitutional Council - there will be no problem, as it concerns the social and economic reform of the country - it is necessary for the idea to be supported by a tenth of the electorate. Within nine months, 4.87 million signatures must be collected.

It must be said that this procedure has never been successful in the history of the country. At one time they tried to submit a decision to privatize the Paris airports to a referendum, and they managed to collect only 1.1 million signatures. And then a coronavirus broke out and all signature collection was curtailed.

Joël Aviragnet, a deputy from the Socialist Party, believes: "If we manage to gather 60-70 percent of the French who are dissatisfied with the reform, we will have already bought time. We'll block the reform for nine months, and then maybe it won't pass at all."

The time factor plays into the hands of the government. If Macron does not have time to sign the law before all the legal formalities of calling a referendum are fulfilled, the expression of will could be simply too late. The Constitution of the Republic states that a referendum on the repeal of the law is not possible one year after its promulgation.

Meanwhile, the unions set new dates for the protests. It does not end so quickly and experience shows that everything will burn on weekends. Marine Tondelier, a deputy from the Greens, rightly noted: "49.3 does not work on the street."