French government to face no-confidence vote over pension age rise
The French government will face a no-confidence vote on Monday, as MPs said they feared for their safety, strike action intensified and police banned demonstrators from parts of central Paris after Emmanuel Macron’s decision to push through an unpopular rise in the pension age without a parliament vote.
Opposition politicians have filed two no-confidence motions in protest at the government using controversial executive powers to raise the state pension age from 62 to 64.
The French president 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.
After two months of protests against the pensions changes and on-off strikes headed by a rare united front of all trade unions, anger continued to mount during the weekend, with demonstrations in many towns. More rail, air and school strikes are planned over the next week.
The two no-confidence motions are seen as unlikely to pass, as they would require an unprecedented grouping together of all the warring opposition parties.
There would have to be a united front across the political spectrum – from the radical left to Marine Le Pen’s far-right and Nicolas Sarkozy’s rightwing Les Républicains – to in order to meet the high threshold of an absolutely majority of 287 votes.
One motion was proposed by the centrist group, Liot, as a kind of multiparty no-confidence motion, co-signed by the Nupes alliance of parties on the left. Another no-confidence motion has been proposed by Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party, which has 88 MPs.
The only way a no-confidence vote would pass would be with the support of a large number of MPs from Les Républicains. But the party’s leader, Éric Ciotti, has ordered his MPs not to vote against the government on the grounds it could lead to “chaos”.
Ciotti’s constituency office in the southern city of Nice was ransacked at the weekend. Windows were broken and graffiti on the walls threatened riots unless he supported the no-confidence vote.
“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.
Other MPs from Les Républicains party said they were receiving hundreds of threatening emails a day.
“It’s as if tomorrow they want to decapitate us,” said Frédérique Meunier from the Corrèze, telling BFMTV that the emails politicians were receiving amounted to harassment. The constituency offices of MPs from Macron’s centrist Renaissance party were also vandalised.
A poll in the Journal du Dimanche on Sunday showed Macron’s popularity has dropped to its lowest since the gilets jaunes anti-government protests four years ago.
As police brace for a week of unpredictable, spontaneous protests in cities and small towns across France, the mood of anger was likened to the start of the gilets jaunes protests, when demonstrators in small towns and the countryside congregated on roundabouts and at street protests. The protests were initially against fuel tax rises but evolved to encompass a wider lack of trust in the political system.
More than 160 people were arrested across France by the early hours of Sunday morning after the third consecutive night of street protests since the government pushed through the pensions changes. Police used tear gas in Paris as bins were set alight and there were clashes with demonstrators in Bordeaux and Nantes. Several people were arrested in Lyon after police said “groups of violent individuals” triggered clashes.
Paris police authorities continued to ban demonstrators gathering at the Place de la Concorde opposite parliament after clashes with protesters last week.
“The reform must be implemented,” the economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, told Le Parisien newspaper. He said there was a right to demonstrate but “violence cannot be tolerated”.
A rare alliance of France’s main trade unions will continue to mobilise to try to force a U-turn on the pensions changes. A day of nationwide industrial action, which will affect trains, air travel and schools, is scheduled for Thursday.
Strike action was stepped up at the weekend, with refinery shut-downs and petrol queues beginning in the south, even though authorities said supplies were high enough to avoid shortages. Philippe Martinez from the leftwing CGT trade union urged bin workers in Paris to continue their two-week-long refuse strike, which has left more than 10,000 tonnes of garbage piling up across across half of Paris neighbourhoods.
One key concern was the crucial baccalauréat exams for high-school leavers, which begin on Monday just as teachers’ unions called for strikes. Supervision of the exams could be affected if staff strike. Martinez said it was important that the exams took place in “good conditions”. Laurent Berger of the moderate CFDT union said the exams must not be perturbed as high-school students were already under a lot of stress.