The French government is to face two no-confidence motions amid street protests, strikes and roadblocks in opposition to Emmanuel Macron’s decision to push through an unpopular rise in the pension age without a parliament vote.
The no-confidence votes are taking place on Monday afternoon against a backdrop of increasing tension on the streets, after clashes between protesters and police in Paris at the weekend and demonstrations in cities around the country. Roadblocks and demonstrations at roundabouts were under way in some parts of France on Monday, including outside Nantes and Lorient. In Rennes, bins were set alight on a highway and cars were stopped.
After teaching unions called for strikes this week, there was concern over whether supervision would be affected at exams for high-school students that began on Monday. School heads were confident that enough supervisors would be in place for the exams.
The no-confidence motions were called in protest at the government using controversial executive powers to raise the state pension age from 62 to 64.
Macron decided last week that the government should use article 49.3 of the constitution to bypass parliament, because he feared it could not garner enough votes for the pension changes. Macron’s centrist grouping lost its absolute majority in parliament at elections last June.
Bringing down the government with a no-confidence vote was “the only way of stopping the social and political crisis in this country”, said Charles de Courson, France’s longest-serving MP and member of the small opposition centrist grouping Liot, who authored one of the no-confidence motions.
“If we continue like this, no one will control anything. That’s what all the trade union leaders are telling us … that they’re seeing things becoming more radical,” he told France Inter radio.
Another motion has been put forward by Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party.
Most analysts expect the government to survive the two votes on Monday. This is because a motion of no-confidence would require an absolute majority of 287 MPs. Reaching that target would require the backing of large number of lawmakers from the rightwing party Les Républicains. This is seen as unlikely after their party leader, Éric Ciotti, said voting in favour of the motions would spark “chaos” in France.
However, some lawmakers from Les Républicains are breaking ranks and will vote for the no-confidence motion: the MP Aurélien Pradié said he would vote against the government because “I think it’s the only way out. We need to move on to something else.”
If the government survives the no-confidence votes, Macron’s changes to the pensions system could swiftly become law. In a sign that the president was holding firm, his office said he had called the heads of the senate and of the national assembly to say he wanted the pension changes to go to “the end of its democratic process”.
If the government falls, Macron would have the option of naming a new government with a new prime minister. He could also dissolve the National Assembly and call a snap parliamentary election, although this was not seen as a likely choice.
A poll for the Journal du Dimanche this weekend showed Macron’s personal approval rating at its lowest level since the height of the gilet-jaunes (yellow vests) anti-government protest movement in 2019, with only 28% of respondents having a positive view of him.